What is Tradition?Before discussing the content of Sacred Tradition regarding homosexuality, it is first necessary to be clear about what one is talking. The following discussion is an abbreviated version of a longer treatment.
To insist on the primacy of Sacred Tradition is part and parcel with the claim that the Church is "Apostolic" as well as "Catholic". Her doctrine is identifiable as extending geographically over all the World, in the belief of both Her lay and clerical members and temporally back to Apostolic roots. By both tests it is not particular or partisan (the root meaning of heretical).
The Magisterium is the servant of
Tradition or it is nothing. One influential commentary on the Second
Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation stresses the
significance and consequences of such a view of the magisterium:
"When seen against this background, the explicit emphasis on the ministerial function of the teaching office must be welcomed as warmly as the statement that its primary service is to listen, that it must constantly take up an attitude of openness toward the sources, which it has continually to consult and consider, in order to be able to interpret them truly and preserve them: not in the sense of "taking them into custody" (to which sometimes the activity of the teaching office in the past may have tended), but as a faithful servant who wards off attempts at foreign domination and defends the dominion of the word of God both against modernism and against traditionalism. At the same time the contrast between the "listening" and the "teaching" church is thus reduced to its true measure: in the last analysis the whole church listens and, vice versa, the whole church shares in the upholding of true teaching."
Laity: because they are the majority
of the Church they do most of the talking! Cardinal Ratzinger recently
reminded us that one can (only?) tell when the Magisterium has spoken
by the response of the laity. This does not mean that the laity have any
kind of role in ratifying or approving doctrine, this "Gallican"
idea has been rightly and roundly condemned, but just that Tradition recognizes
Tradition! The sheep recognize the voice of a good shepherd, because he
talks sense: with personal integrity, and in faithfulness to the Gospel.
Whenever someone who is generally thought of as being the Pope (e.g. Pius IX) apparently attempts to teach infallibly, the following questions always necessarily arise:
Does he really intend to teach this infallibly?Partly this can be determined by what formula of words is used, but this is all convention and bound up in the uncertainties of human language.
Is he orthodox?If not, he's not a Catholic, having (temporarily) lapsed from the Faith (as Pope Honorius certainly did) and so he can't be Pope, so he can't enjoy the charism of infallibility! The Church inevitably judges the orthodoxy of the Pope continually, just as the Pope teaches and admonishes the body of the faithful continually.
What does what he says mean?Over to the theologians!
It might be nice if infallibility was neater than this little old mess, but I don't see how (in the kind of world which we actually inhabit) it could be so. Remember the Church can never proclaim anything that is new, unknown or surprising to Herself! The Gospel will always be what it always was, though it might (in the fulness of time) turn out to have implications (taught us by Holy Spirit) that take us aback at first. Though we may drift away from it, the Word of God is unchanging and He is Faithful. When we repent and return to the Gospel we will find it uncomfortably familiar.
When something is proposed that is not Apostolic, it will not be recognized by the laity and its proposer will be exposed as heterodox - be they putative Pope or Synod! When Nestorius the Patriarch of Constantinople defended the proposition that Mary Mother of Jesus was not the Mother of God it was the laity that rose up in revolt against his magisterium. The common folk of God knew very well that this was novel teaching and would have none of it.
In the days of the Arian heresy, it was the laity who defended the faith. Of the hierarchy, almost all compromised with the enemies of the truth, signing (not so) ambiguous conciliar texts. Pope Leo I of Rome and Patriarch Athanasius of Alexandria were the only notable clerics who bothered to defend Orthodoxy.
Tradition and Common senseIt shouldn't need to be pointed out that Tradition is not the same as common sense, even in the sense of "the consensus of the Laity" (or Church in all her orders.) It is quite possible for The Church as a Whole to mistake something that is commonly held to be true (e.g. the "Earth is Flat", "The Sun circles the Earth", "the Jews are all personally guilty of killing God", "The Patriarchal Family is a good thing", "lending money at interest is gravely sinful", "Democracy is a bad thing", "Slavery is legitimate", "Dolphins don't have souls", "all dancing is gravely sinful", "Democracy is a good thing"...) to be Gospel Truth. In retrospect it is often easy to identify these mistakes and one wonders why they were ever made. The fact that they were made, and moreover strenuously defended by the magisterium and/or saints at the time, should be a cause for present humility. John Paul II made it his business to apologize for some of the worst historical errors of his predecessors, (as also for the gross irreverence and many scandals common in contemporary Catholic worship) however there is no present sign that anything has been learned in practical terms from the fact that they occurred.
Traditionalism and RadicalismAs an aside, I would like to point out an amusing irony. Typically one might think that radical and traditional theologies (or whatever) would be in opposition: as different as chalk and cheese. A little thought shows how wrong this should be, in theory. Both mean "going back to origins". I like to think of myself as a "Radical Traditionalist". The contrast is with "Conservative Authoritarian", and "Innovationist Libertarian". More of this in another paper.
What does Tradition contain?Now that I've got that out of the way, it is now necessary to look at the specifics, as best we may. First it has to be remarked that in general there is no clear distinction between "The Official Teaching" of the Church and Tradition. Generally, Official Teaching is the best witness to (though it it is not the same as) Tradition. However, in our present field this happens not to be the case. It is apparent, on the most cursory investigation, that "The Official Teaching" on the subject of "sexuality" has a clear starting point, give or take fifty years (an instant in Church History). All of this I deal with in great detail in a subsequent paper. What I wish to discuss presently is "everything else that I am aware of", in order to put that paper in its proper context.
Who were the Fathers?The Fathers are nothing more than early Christian apologists and theologians. Many were Bishops, but some were lay people. As it happens none are known to be female. There is no definite date after which a writer is not considered to be a "Father of the Church", but the very earliest writers are called "Apostolic Fathers", as being people who typically claim or are thought to have been pupils of one or more of the Apostles. Two anonymous documents derive from this period: The Didache and The Shepherd and their unknown authors are counted as Apostolic Fathers: even though they may have been female!
Why should we pay their writing special attention?The Fathers are not believed to have been inspired, like the Apostles. Nor, except for those few who also happen to be Popes, are they thought to have been infallible. As far as I know, no acts of any patristic Pope are thought to have been exercises of the Extraordinary Magisterium; though the so called "Tome" of Pope St Leo the Great gets close to this.
The reason that the writings of the Fathers are so important is that they testify to the "state of play" of the Apostolic Tradition close to its inception. Their writings serve as (incomplete but surprisingly extensive) "initial conditions" for the Development of Doctrine. When many Fathers from different geographical locals all agree on some doctrinal point, it is very plausible that they agree because it was a prominent feature of the original Apostolic Preaching.
Now note the silent premise that underlies all this. The idea is that "what the whole Church now believes must have been taught by the Apostles" because there is no other source, available to everyone, from which it could have come. This is, it seems to me, a plausible premise and I enthusiastically accept the argument. One should remember, of course, that as the date of the Father gets later, it is more and more plausible that the reason he agrees with other Fathers is just because he's read their works and (perhaps uncritically) adopted their teaching as his own.
In matters of morals, the situation is radically different. Clearly, there are any number of common sources other than the Apostolic preaching, from which a common moral stance might have resulted, such as: Roman secular law; Roman or Greek secular prejudices and sensibilities; Jewish religious law and sensibilities. The fact that a good number of Fathers agree that some status, action, activity or social institution (such as: being Jewish; being a slave; paying taxes; swearing an oath in a court of law; serving in the army; or marriage) is right or wrong does not constitute any kind of argument that the position that they hold in common is Apostolic. It might just as well be a secular prejudice that had not yet been exorcised from the Church by the Gospel.
Nevertheless, any overwhelming and clear consensus: especially if it has Scriptural backing, would generally be viewed as significant. As it happens, we shall see that there is no such consensus in the matter of "homosexuality".
says nothing about non-procreative sexuality among married persons, and
most Jewish commentators have agreed that anything was licit between husband
The Testament of JacobThis is a Third Century Apocryphal text of unknown but seemingly Christian authorship.
"They were prepared to torment the sinners, who are these: adulterers, male and female; those lusting after males...."It doesn't really add anything to the Pauline corpus. I am not sure of the Greek of the original. In the translation offered here (not my own!), it seems to exclude all Christian wives in consummated marriages from salvation! I am sure this was not the intention of the author.
Saint Augustine and Saint ChrysostomThe two great sources of teaching on the subject of sexuality in general are Saint Augustine: Archbishop of Hippo, and Saint John Chrysostom: Patriarch of Constantinople. In essence, they do not add anything much to what the Apostle Paul has to say. However they do rather emphasize the tone of general suspicion regarding sexuality in general. Augustine was quite clear that the purpose of marriage and sexual intercourse was the engendering of children. This is in apparent contrast with the teaching of [Gen 2:18]. He goes so far as to suggest that it would be better to be able to procreate without the necessity of sexual congress and that the sexual appetite is itself a punishment for original sin.
"Although, therefore, there be many lusts, yet when we read the word "lust" alone, without mention of the object, we commonly take it for the unclean motion of the generative parts. For this sways in the whole body, moving the whole man without and within, with such a mixture of mental emotion and carnal appetite, that hence is the highest bodily pleasure of all produced: so that in the very moment of consummation, it overwhelms almost all the light and power of cogi-Chrysostom was quite clear in asserting that "marriage is the remedy for concupiscence" [in illud, propter fornicationes uxorem, 2; Patrologiae cursus completus, Series graeca 51:210 ed J.P. Migne : Paris 1857-76]. In one passage, Chrysostom seems to equate heterosexual daliance with homosexual:
"[Certain men in church] come in gazing about at the beauty of women; others curious about the blooming youth of boys. After this, do you not marvel that [lightning] bolts are not launched [from heaven], and all these things are not plucked up from their foundations? For worthy both of thunderbolts and hell are the things that are done; but God, who is long-suffering, and of great mercy, forbears awhile his wrath, calling you to repentance and amendment" [St John Chrysostom: Homilies on Matthew 3:3 (A.D. 391)]
"Admonendi sunt conjuges, ut suscipiendae prolis se meminerint causa conjunctos, et cum immoderatae admixtioni servientes propagationis articulum in usum transferunt voluptatis, perpendant, quod licet extra non exeant, in ipso tamen conjugio conjugii jura transcendunt? Unde necesse est, ut crebris exorationibus deleant, quod pulchram copulae speciem admixtis voluptatibus foedant."
"The married must be admonished to bear in mind that they are united in wedlock for the purpose of procreation, and when they abandon themselves to immoderate intercourse, they transfer the occasion of procreation to the service of pleasure. Let them realize that though they do not then pass beyond the bonds of wedlock, yet in wedlock they exceed its rights. Wherefore, it is necessary that they should efface by frequent prayer what they befoul in the fair form of intercourse by the admixture of pleasure." [Regula Pastoralis, Part III, Caput xxvii]In other words:
"Nowadays Christianity of the past is often criticized as having been opposed to the body; and it is quite true that tendencies of this sort have always existed." [Pope Benedict XVI "Deus Caritas Est" (2006)]
"In... places... which are subject to the barbarians... the love of youths shares an evil repute with philosophy and gymnastics, because they are inimical to tyranny. The interests of such rulers require that their subjects should be poor in spirit and that there should be no strong bonds of friendship or attachments among them, which such love, above all other motives, is likely to inspire. Our Athenian tyrants learned this by experience: for the love of Aristogeiton and the constancy of Harmodius had a strength which undid their power.The general rejection by the Fathers of non-procreative sexuality, does not relate directly to gay people. The Fathers were attempting to impress on all Christians the obligation to acknowledge every act of heterosexual intercourse as the potential procreation of a child. They thought that to allow as licit any act of non-procreative intercourse would be the thin end of the wedge. Their fear was that it would result in irresponsible wishful thinking, that "perhaps I'll get away with it this time," which would in turn lead to promiscuity and the conception of children out of wedlock. No effective means of contraception was known; not even the rhythm method. The only way for sexually active adults to avoid the responsibility of bringing up children was to kill or abandon them. This sequence of reasoning is fairly explcit in the testimony of Justin Martyr:
"[W]e have been taught that to expose newly born children is the part of wicked men; and this we have been taught lest we should do anyone harm and lest we should sin against God, first, because we see that almost all so exposed (not only the girls, but also the males) are brought up to prostitution. And for this pollution a multitude of females and hermaphrodites, and those who commit unmentionable iniquities, are found in every nation. And you receive the hire of these, and duty and taxes from them, whom you ought to exterminate from your realm. And anyone who uses such persons, besides the godless and infamous and impure intercourse, may possibly be having intercourse with his own child, or relative, or brother. And there are some who prostitute even their own children and wives, and some are openly mutilated for the purpose of sodomy; and they refer these mysteries to the mother of the gods" [Justin Martyr: First Apology 27, A.D. 151].The Bishops therefore thought it important to impress upon their people that they had to envisage that a child might be conceived every time they shared sexual pleasures, and must welcome this. The only other alternatives in the world in which the early theology of the church was formulated were morally unacceptable. The original aim of this analysis was only to protect children. There was no thought to attack homosexuals.
The Didache, Sts Polycarp, Athenagoras, Cyprian of Carthage, Clement of Alexandria, Chrysostom, Eusebius and Augustine also have negative things to say about "homosexuality" - generaly identified as "pederasty", which is not at all the same thing! Given that they weren't keen on "heterosexuality", either, this is not surprising. However, their testimony is surprisingly equivocal.
"You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill one that has been born" [Didache 2:2 (A.D. 70)]Athenagoras writes:
"For we bestow our attention, not on the study of words, but on the exhibition and teaching of actions - that a person should either remain as he was born, or be content with one marriage: for a second marriage is only a specious adultery. 'For whosoever puts away his wife,' says He, 'and marries another, commits adultery;' not permitting a man to send her away whose virginity he has brought to an end, nor to marry again. For he who deprives himself of his first wife, even though she be dead, is a cloaked adulterer, resisting the hand of God, because in the beginning God made one man and one woman, and dissolving the strictest union of flesh with flesh, formed [them?] for the intercourse of the race."Note that he seems to stipulate that a second marriage after legal separation from and subsequent death of the first spouse is adulterous. This is contrary to the official teaching and contemporary practice of the Catholic Church. As regards his remarks on same gender sexual activity:
"[H]aving forbidden all unlawful marriage, and all unseemly practice, and the union of women with women and men with men, he [God] adds: ‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for in all these things the nations were defiled, which I will drive out before you.’" [Eusebius: "Proof of the Gospel" 4:10 (A.D. 319)]St. John Chrysostom, commenting on Romans, condemns "the mad lust after males" and women "who seek after these intercourses":
"All of these affections ..... were vile, but chiefly the mad lust after males; for the soul is more the sufferer in sins, and more dishonoured than the body in diseases .... [The men] have done an insult to nature itself. And a yet more disgraceful thing than these is it, when even the women seek after these intercourses, who ought to have more shame than men." [Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 4, A.D. 391].Here, he merely demonstrates his misunderstanding of St Paul. He goes on to argue that whatever he is talking about (I do not admit that it is necessarily "homosexuality") is its own punishment, simply because it is "contrary to nature":
"And sundry other books of the philosophers one may see full of this disease. But we do not therefore say that the thing was made lawful, but that they who received this law were pitiable, and objects for many tears. For these are treated in the same way as women that play the whore. Or rather their plight is more miserable. For in the case of the one the intercourse, even if lawless, is yet according to nature; but this is contrary both to law and nature. For even if there were no hell, and no punishment had been threatened, this would be worse than any punishment"St Cyprian of Carthage betrays a similar incomprehension of same gender sexuality when he says:
"Oh, if placed on that lofty watchtower, you could gaze into the secret places—if you could open the closed doors of sleeping chambers and recall their dark recesses to the perception of sight—you would behold things done by immodest persons which no chaste eye could look upon; you would see what even to see is a crime; you would see what people embruted with the madness of vice deny that they have done, and yet hasten to do—men with frenzied lusts rushing upon men, doing things which afford no gratification even to those who do them." [Cyprian: Letters 1:9, A.D. 253].The presumption is that Cyprian can only envisage mad heterosexuals, who can derive "no gratification" from the "frenzied lusts" (almost certainly cultic in origin) that "embrute" them as engaging in same gender sexual activity.
"[T]urn your looks to the abominations, not less to be deplored, of another kind of spectacle... Men are emasculated, and all the pride and vigor of their sex is effeminated in the disgrace of their enervated body; and he is more pleasing there who has most completely broken down the man into the woman. He grows into praise by virtue of his crime; and the more he is degraded, the more skillful he is considered to be. Such a one is looked upon—oh shame!—and looked upon with pleasure... Nor is there wanting authority for the enticing abomination.... that Jupiter of theirs [is] not more supreme in dominion than in vice, inflamed with earthly love in the midst of his own thunders... now breaking forth by the help of birds to violate the purity of boys. And now put the question: Can he who looks upon such things be healthy-minded or modest? Men imitate the gods whom they adore, and to such miserable beings their crimes become their religion" [Cyprian: Letters 1:8 (A.D. 253)]Similarly, Chrysostom says that St. Paul deprives the people he is discussing of any excuse by noting that their women "changed the natural use". No one can claim, that they came to this because they were precluded from lawful intercourse or that because they were unable to satisfy their desire .... Only those possessing something can change it. He makes the same point about the men he is discussing: saying they "left the natural use of women." He says that St Paul thereby invalidates every excuse, charging that they abandoned a legitimate enjoyment (here contradicting the teaching of Pope St Gregory) which was natural to them in favour of another that was not. So Chrysostom is quite clear that St. Paul was writing about heterosexual people, probably married, who abandoned the licit pleasure proper to their own natures for an improper thrill or "kick". It is also without doubt that he was hostile to pederasty: "the corruption of boys":
"[The pagans] were addicted to the love of boys, and one of their wise men made a law that pederasty... should not be allowed to slaves, as if it was an honorable thing; and they had houses for this purpose, in which it was openly practiced. And if all that was done among them was related, it would be seen that they openly outraged nature, and there was none to restrain them... As for their passion for boys, whom they called their paedica, it is not fit to be named"The following passages suggest that both Sts Augustine and Clement of Alexandria thought, wrongly, that the sin of Sodom was homosexuality:
"... those shameful acts against nature, such as were committed in Sodom, ought everywhere and always to be detested and punished. If all nations were to do such things, they would be held guilty of the same crime by the law of God, which has not made men so that they should use one another in this way"St Clement is happy to condemn "effeminacy" too, although this is not at all the same thing as "homosexuality":
"All honor to that king of the Scythians, whoever Anacharsis was, who shot with an arrow one of his subjects who imitated among the Scythians the mystery of the mother of the gods... condemning him as having become effeminate among the Greeks, and a teacher of the disease of effeminacy to the rest of the Scythians" [Clement: "Exhortation to the Greeks" 2 (A.D. 190)]In this he is bedfellow with the heretic Novation, who says that feminine characteristics are "trifling, fickle, and faithless" and so unworthy of men who should be "rough, rugged, unpolished, substantial, and grave":
"[God forbade the Jews to eat certain foods for symbolic reasons:] For that in fishes the roughness of scales is regarded as constituting their cleanness; rough, and rugged, and unpolished, and substantial, and grave manners are approved in men; while those that are without scales are unclean, because trifling, and fickle, and faithless, and effeminate manners are disapproved. Moreover, what does the law mean when it... forbids the swine to be taken for food? It assuredly reproves a life filthy and dirty, and delighting in the garbage of vice... Or when it forbids the hare? It rebukes men deformed into women" [Novation: "The Jewish Foods" 3 (A.D. 250)]St Basil, writing about monastic discipline, says:
"He who is guilty of unseemliness with males will be under discipline for the same time as adulterers"This teaching should be compared with that of St Aelred. Clearly it is directed towards preventing sexual activity among monks who are vowed to celibacy, and does not deal with the general case. The Saint would, I am sure, have been just as wary of involvement with young women. Amusingly, he almost implies that almost any young monk might be taken with desire for another young man; as if he thought that heterosexuality was not a very secure behaviour pattern or sexual orientation. lesbianism[Rom 1:26], while (as we have seen) St John Chrysostom applied this verse to lesbians, St Clement of Alexandria and St Augustine did not do so. They understood it to relate to hetero-gender anal or oral sex [Brooten: "Patristic Interpretations of Romans 1:26." Studia Patristica 18: 287-291 Cistercian Publishing (1985.); Miller: "The practices of Romans 1:26: Homosexual or heterosexual." Novum Testamentum 37, p1-11 (1995)]. One early Christian writer, Anastasius, dismisses out of hand the view that Paul was referring to lesbianism:
"Clearly they do not go into one another, but rather offer themselves to the men."St Augustine continues this line of thought:
"But if one has relations even with one's wife in a part of the body which was not made for begetting children, such relations are against nature and indecent. In fact, the same apostle earlier said the same thing about women, 'For their women exchanged natural relations for those which are against nature.'"
LegislationIt is certain that when "penitentials" (crib notes for priests to use in confession, with guidance as to the penances to be imposed for various sins) came to be popular, (some) homosexual acts featured as sinful. However, they typically attracted dramatically milder penances than usury, which is now not considered to be wrong at all. Moreover, Church Law in the 16th Century dealing with homosexual activity was chiefly directed toward married persons, and was therefore concerned with a species of adultery. Little is said of single people. To the best of my knowledge, the Tradition is otherwise silent on the specific subject of homosexuality as far as clear negative comment goes. There is considerably more that is positive, as we will soon see.
Although the early Church was keen on purity issues, it would have been impossible for it to insist that all sexually active members be legally married [there were no Church marriages for hundreds of years as all acknowledge]. This is because marriage in Roman society was restricted to those who had the right of "conubium" - that is free Roman citizens. Marriage was understood as a contract, but contracts could not be made by many - including slaves. Thus many Gentile converts especially in Rome, [Jews, and residents of some cities could presumably make use of local marriage customs] would have been unable to contract marriage. While slave relationships did have some recognition as conterbinium, a huge array of couples simply had no legal way of being "married", but there is no evidence that they were precluded from marriage.The idea of a "marriage service" came in round about 1000 AD, though the blessing of a marriage after the event and the idea of "nuptial Mass" may pre-date this, I'm not sure. Ecclesiastical involvement in marriage was first required, in the West, in 1215 AD when marriage was first declared to be a sacrament. I am not calling into question the sacramentality of marriage, or its elevation to a sacrament by Christ Himself during his earthly ministry. That is, largely, defined dogma, and I have no difficulty in accepting this.
Before moving on to the specific issue of homosexuality, I think it important to make a point regarding the Traditional Rite of Marriage. At the very heart of the ritual sanctioned for use in the United Kingdom (based on ancient Sarum usage) was the phrase "with my body, I thee worship". This witnessed to the central role of "erotic delight" in married life: see the Song of Solomon, for a Scriptural basis and contrast this with Sts Paul, Augustine and Chrysostom. I think that it is significant that there is no place for such a sentiment within the rite of Paul VI.
It is very difficult to believe, but it is nevertheless true, that in the same period that hetero-gender Marriage Rites were developed in the Church; other rites of pair bonding were developed intended for homo-gender unions. There is (and could be) no proof that these were "marriages". Often the ceremony title could be translated "spiritual brother making".
"Spiritual brotherhood was distinguished by saying that the couple's love was 'not of nature, but of the Holy Spirit'; which I consider not only to be a wonderful explanation of the term spiritual (it does not mean non-sexual; one should consider that heterosexual marriage is sexual but is also spiritual) but a rebuttal of the tired arguments about gay love being against nature". [Nicholas Zymaris, Axios Web Site]The word brother (and sister) is often used euphemistically in the Old Testament and other ancient writings. On the other hand, the idea of same gender marriage is not something newly proposed in the 20th century. It was not rare in ancient times. For example, two Roman Emperors were married to men. Catholic liturgies for homo-gender unions have been discovered dating from from the eighth to the seventeenth Century. They were performed everywhere that Greek was used as a Liturgical language, including Italy.
It is reasonable to interpret these rites as being homo-gender marriages because of the context in which they were found. Very commonly they appear together with related rituals, with the ceremonies listed in the following order:
BELGRADE [date uncertain; before the 18th century: Serbian Slavonic]
SINAI 966 [13th century: Greek]
"By matrimony, therefore, the souls of the contracting parties are joined and knit together more directly and more intimately than are their bodies, and that not by any passing affection of sense of spirit, but by a deliberate and firm act of the will; and from this union of souls by God's decree, a sacred and inviolable bond arises. Hence the nature of this contract, which is proper and peculiar to it alone, makes it entirely different both from the union of animals entered into by the blind instinct of nature alone in which neither reason nor free will plays a part, and also from the haphazard unions of men, which are far removed from all true and honorable unions of will and enjoy none of the rights of family life." [Pius XI: "Casti Connubii" #7]For more details, you must read "The Marriage of Likeness" (J. Boswell, Harper Collins 1994), also an article by Dr Dan Healey on the situation in Russia, and finally an eloquant testimony by Nicholas Zymaris that gives a fascinating account of the practice of the Albanian Orthodox Church. Suffice to say that it would seem that in Medieval times there was a considerable demand for the solemnization of same gender pair bonding covenants, rather like that of David and Jonathan, and that the Church was entirely happy to respond to this demand. Gerald of Wales described the energetic same-sex marriage practised by the Irish:
"First they exchange covenants of co-fatherhood (compaternitas, also "comradeship"). Then they take it in turns to carry each other around the church three times. Next, they go inside, relics of saints are placed at the altar, all kinds of solemn obligations are given out, and then finally, with a Mass and priestly prayers they are indissolubly bonded as if by a betrothal (desponsatio)." [Gerald of Wales (c 1180 AD)]From the fourteenth century on, Western Europe was gripped by a rabid and obsessive negative preoccupation with genital homosexuality as the most horrible of sins. These rites of homo-gender union were then generally strenuously suppressed. Nevertheless, the ceremony remained licit into the thirteenth century and beyond. Catholic authority seems not to have recognized (or turned a blind eye towards) its significance!
One of the most interesting passages relating to the widespread conceivability of gay marriage comes from the French essayist Montaigne. His story is confirmed by other sources (records of a Venetian diplomat for instance) and so seems to refer to an actual event that took place in late 16th century Rome:
Of course, it is not possible to tell definitively from the form of the rites, what exactly was intended. It is easy to determine that a heterosexual bonding rite envisages "sexual activity", simply because it typically involves a prayer for children, something that would be a nonsense in any same gender union! Hence, these rites might just have been "solemnizations of friendship", and the extravagance of language be attributed to "Eastern Flamboyance". If so, why do we not still have them? Do modern folk no longer feel the need for friendships to be affirmed and publicly celebrated? Why were these rites suppressed?
"For a very long period, formal amatory unions, conjugal, elective and indissoluble, between two members of the same sex were made in Europe, publicly recognised and consecrated in churches through Christian ritual. They were never identical to heterosexual marriages - in societies in which gender differences were so significant, how could they have been? - but were often implicitly or explicitly compared to and contrasted with heterosexual marriages, and were by no means considered to come off the worse for the comparison.Of course, these rites might have been what I suggest they were, but as such were an abuse: the "general absolution" of the Thirteenth Century!
official teaching" isolated
from this context.
The following saying appears in the Anonymous Series of the Apophthegmata Patrum :
"Two brothers who were attacked by lust went away to get married. Later on they said to one another, 'What have we gained by leaving the angelic order and coming to this impurity? In the end we shall suffer fire and punishment. Let us then return to the desert and repent."A fuller text and commentary is given elsewhere. The point that I want to make here is simple: the obvious meaning of this text is that the two brothers (i.e. monks) married each other. They:
"Two religious who were attacked by lust went away to get married. Later on they said to one another, 'What have we gained by leaving the angelic order and coming to this impurity?'"then anyone reading it would have taken it at face value and presumed that one was male and the other female and that they had married each other. The only thing that prevents a similar interpretation of the first text is that the two religious are explicitly stated as being "brothers", coupled with the unstated and unestablished premise that two males cannot "get married".
The reason that the relationship between the two parties is described as lustful is that it led them to give up their vocation to the monastic life, rejecting a higher love and substituting a lower.
Saint George of CappodociaNothing whatsoever can be established about St. George as a historical figure. Nethertheless, no one reading early texts about George can fail to notice their homoeroticism. George at one stage is about to marry, but is prevented by Christ:
"[George] did not know that Christ was keeping him as a pure virginal bridegroom for himself".Later on Christ welcomes George into Heaven with bridal imagery: -
"And the Lord said to the blessed George, Hail, My George! Hail beloved of myself and of My Angels... I swear by My right hand, Oh my beloved one that I will establish a covenant with thee that when thou shalt bow thyself upon thy spiritual face in heaven and shall come with all they congregation to worship the holy Trinity, all the saints know thee by reason of the honour which I will show thee, O My beloved..."In these texts, here from Coptic versions, George is presented as the bridegroom of Christ. Bridal imagery is quite common in discourse about Christ, but usually male saints are made into "brides of Christ", but with George homo-gender marital imagery is used.
Saints Sergius and BacchusThe story of the martyrs Sergius and Bacchus (feast day in the Traditional Roman Calendar, October 7th) is very significant. You should read it in Boswell's book. Basically, they were "passionate friends" who suffered martyrdom in the Third Century. Interestingly, their passion (cf passion of Christ) has never before been translated into English from the original Greek. Here is a summary. The language they are portrayed as using one for the other as their trials proceed is quite remarkable
"The Emperor immediately ordered their belts cut off, their tunics and all other military garb removed. Gold torguates were taken from around their necks and women's clothing placed on them. Thus they were to be paraded through the middle of the city to the palace, bearing heavy chains around their necks. As they were paraded through the city streets they chanted together: "Yea , though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil Lord, because denying ungodliness and worldly lust we have put off the form of the old man and we, naked, rejoice in you, because you have clothed us with the garment of salvation. You have covered us with the robe of righteousness. You have decked us as brides with women's gowns, and have joined us one to another for you, through our faithfulness."
Sergius and Bacchus are subject to a series of torments, typical of the time. They are described as '... being as One, in their love for Christ...'. Bacchus finally dies. Then, the blessed Sergius, deeply depressed and heartsick over the loss of Bacchus, wept and cried out: 'Oh my other half, never will we sing together the hymns and songs we used to sing. You have been unyoked from me, and gone up to heaven, leaving me alone on earth, now single and disconsolate.' Then Bacchus appears to him, the biographer describes him as radiant and beautiful. He says: 'Why do you morn and grieve, beloved? I have been taken from you bodily, but in the bond of union, I am with you still. Hurry now so that through your good and perfect fidelity, you may be worthy to obtain me when you have finished the race. For my crown of justice is to be with you.'"This is a remarkable story. No other early account of martyrdom features love between two human beings in this way. They are martyred for confessing the name of Christ. This narrative affirms the value of love between two people based on their common faith. In the scores of liturgies down through the centuries that bless homo-gender unions, Sergius and Bacchus are invoked as the archetypes, their friendship the model for homo-gender relationships.
Saints Polyeuct and NearchusSaints Polyeuct (d.259 AD) and Nearchus were Soldiers in the Roman army and deeply attached to each other. They were stationed in Militene, Armenia. The earliest account of Polyeuct’s martyrdom was written by Nearchus. The theme of his account is the desire of these two friends to spend eternity together. When the emperor issued a new edict against Christians, Nearchus became terribly worried that, since he was a Christian, while his friend was a pagan, his own possible martyrdom would lead to their being separated after death. When he learns of his friend's concern, Polyeuct reassures him that he has long been drawn to Christianity and intends to die a Christian. With a convert's fervour, Polyeuct then attacks a pagan procession and gets himself arrested. The judge appointed to try the case is the accused's own father-in-law, Felix. He begs his son-in-law to reconsider his conversion. Then Polyeuct’s pagan wife, Paulina, comes to court and unsuccessfully implores him, for the sake of their marriage and their son, to change his mind. He refuses, accounting faith and friendship as of more account than family ties. After severe tortures, he is condemned to death. Just before he is beheaded, Polyeuct sees his Christian friend Nearchus near. His final words to Nearchus are "Remember our secret vow".
JeromeSt Jerome, the famous translater-monk who produced the Vulgate was clearly deeply emotionally attached, at least for a time, to one Rufinus, for he wrote:
"For I who fancied it too bold a wish to be allowed by an exchange of letters to counterfeit to myself your presence in the flesh... Oh, if only the Lord Jesus Christ would suddenly transport me to you... with what a close embrace would I clasp your neck, how fondly would I press kisses upon that mouth which has so often joined with me of old in error or in wisdom. But as I am unworthy (not that you should so come to me but) that I should so come to you, and because my poor body, weak even when well, has been shattered by frequent illnesses; I send this letter to meet you instead of coming myself, in the hope that it may bring you hither to me caught in the meshes of love's net." [St Jerome: "letter to Rufinus the monk"]
I, through all chances that are given to mortals,An Epigram by Ausonius [c. 310-390]:
Glad youth had come they sixteenth year to crown,
The two men then leave the monastery and live together as hermits for twenty-nine years. There is no reason to suspect that they were ever genitally intimate, but they were very much a homo-gender couple. After all those years the Life moves to the next part of the story: Symeon's activities in Emesa as a "Fool for Christ". The depth and tenderness of their relationship is revealed at this point. John is distraught at the prospect of Symeon leaving. He says to Symeon
"... Please, for the Lord's sake, do not leave wretched me... Rather for the sake of Him who joined us, do not wish to be parted from your brother. You know that, after God, I have no one except you, my brother, but I renounced all and was bound to you, and now you wish to leave me in the desert, as in an open sea. Remember that day when we drew lots and went down to the Lord Nikon, that we agreed not to be separated from one another. Remember that fearful day when we were clothed in the holy habit, and we two were as one soul, so that all were astonished at our love. Don't forget the words of the great monk… Please don't lest I die and God demands an account of my soul from You."These words fail to move Symeon, who insists on going. He urges John to pray with him.
"After they had prayed for many hours and had kissed each other on the breast and drenched them with their tears, John let go of Symeon and traveled together with him a long distance, for his soul would not let him be separated from him. But whenever Symeon said to him 'Turn Back, Brother', he heard the word as if a knife separated him from his body, and again he asked if he could accompany him a little further. Therefore, when Symeon forced him, he turned back to his cell drenching the earth with tears."From this point on the Life concerns Symeon's activities in Emesa.
This is a description of an intense and emotional homo-gender relationship which defies reduction to "just friendship". The story is awash with marital and sexual imagery.
"I think of your love and friendship with such sweet memories, reverend bishop, that I long for that lovely time when I may be able to clutch the neck of your sweetness with the fingers of my desires. Alas, if only it were granted to me, as it was to Habakkuk [Dan. 14:32-38], to be transported to you, how I would sink into your embraces... how much would I cover, with tightly pressed lips, not only your eyes, ears and mouth, but also your every finger and toe, not once but many a time."And here is a poem by Alcuin: "Lament for a Cuckoo"
O cuckoo that sang to us and art fled,
Marbod, Bishop of Rennes (d. 1123 AD)The Unyielding Youth
composed an ode about a certain boy
According to Paul Halsall, Anselm had emotional relationships with Lanfranc and then a succession of his own pupils. He would address his letters to his "beloved lover" [dilecto dilitori]. Here are samples:
"Wherever you go my love follows you, and wherever I remain my desire embraces you...How then could I forget you? He who is imprisoned on my heart like a seal on wax- how could he be removed from my memory? Without saying a word I know that you love [amor] me, and without my saying a word, you know that I love you." [Epistle 1.4; PL 158:1068-69]St. Anselm was one of the first saints to address Jesus as mother, a practice and spirituality later taken up by Julian of Norwich.
There have been long running arguments among academics about Anslem's sexuality. Brian McGuire is probably the most important scholar working on Anselm these days. For many years, well aware of the anachronism of calling any pre-modern individual "gay" or "homosexual", McGuire was not pinned down on the issue [McGuire, Brian P., "Love, Friendship and Sex in the 11th Century: The Experience of Anselm", Studia Theologia 28 (1974)]. Recently, however, he has argued that it is appropriate to see Anselm as "homosexual", if we are to use such terms. [McGuire, Brian P., "Monastic Friendship and Toleration in Twelfth Century Cistercian Life", in W. J. Shiels., ed., Monks, Hermits and the Ascetic Tradition, Studies in Church History 22, (1985)]
St Aelred had a deep appreciation for friendship, and by that is meant the particular love between two individuals. Traditionally, we hear much about universal charity, the disinterested love every Catholic should have for all humankind. We hear little about the worthy love between two people, except in the context of marriage. Of all the gifts St Aelred has given the Church, the best is his joyous affirmation that we move toward God in and through our relationships with other people, not apart from or in spite of them. It is important to remember who those particular individuals were, whose love taught Aelred of the love of God. Aelred writes of his school days as a time when he thought of nothing but loving and being loved by men, and of losing his heart to one boy and then another. He was a man of strong passions, who spoke openly of the men for whom he had deeply romantic attachments. After the death of one monk whom he clearly loved, he wrote:
"The only one who would not be astonished to see Aelred living without Simon would be someone who did not know how pleasant it was for us to spend our life on earth together; how great a joy it would have been for us to journey to heaven in each other's company ....Weep, then, not because Simon has been taken up to heaven, but because Aelred has been left on earth, alone."In his famous book on Christian friendship, he extols same gender bonding. He drew upon his personal positive experience of love for other men in his ministry as a Cistercian Abbot, encouraging his monks to love each other, not just generally and in the abstract, but individually and passionately. He cited the example of Jesus and St. John as a basis for this comparing their relationship to a marriage:
"Jesus himself, is in everything like us. Patient and compassionate with others in every matter. He transfigured this sort of love through the expression of his own love; for he allowed only one - not all - to recline on his breast as a sign of his special love; and the closer they were, the more copiously did the secrets of their heavenly marriage impart the sweet smell of their spiritual chrism to their love."St Aelred describes the friendship that he so valued in the following passage:
"It is no small consolation in this life to have someone to whom you can be united in the intimate embrace of the most sacred love; in whom your spirit can rest; to whom you can pour out your soul; in whose delightful company, as in a sweet consoling song, you can take comfort in the midst of sadness; in whose most welcome, friendly bosom you can find peace in so many worldly setbacks; to whose loving heart you can open, as freely as you would to yourself, your innermost thoughts; through whose spiritual kisses – as by some medicine – you are cured of the sickness of care and worry; who weeps with you in sorrow, rejoices with you in joy, and wonders with you in doubt; whom you draw by the fetters of love into that inner room of your soul, so that though the body is absent, the spirit is there, and you can confer all alone, the two of you, in the sleep of peace away from the noise of the world, in the embrace of love, in the kiss of unity, with the Holy Spirit flowing over you; to whom you so join and unite yourself that you mix soul with soul, and two become one."Of course, later on, St Aelred's teaching was entirely reversed in typical monastic discipline. Following the lead of St. Basil, so called particular friendships were discouraged aggressively. To my knowledge, it was not made explicit why they came to be thought to be so wrong; but one suspects that the motive was to eliminate homosexual attachments and possibly eradicate homosexual practice in monasteries.
"In my seminary I was constantly warned... against particular friendship. It was written into our statutes that the students were to be watched for signs of particular friendships. Now... this term... means simply friendship. Yes, belive it or not, simple friendship between two students was forbidden. We were supposed to be equally fond of all alike, and equally not fond of all alike, which is humanly impossible. The result was that none of us spoke to anyone else most of the time. Ten years of silence and mutual mistrust. A veritable hell was our seminary, as far as humanity goes.
On a dark night,
"From the first he loved me with an intensity of love, which was unaccountable…As far as this world was concerned I was his first and last."When Ambrose St John died in May, 1875 John Henry Newman was undone. He said that the loss was the "greatest affliction I have had in my life" and then went further, writing:
"I have ever thought no bereavement was equal to that of a husband’s or a wife’s…but I feel it difficult to believe that any can be greater, or any one’s sorrow greater, than mine."A year later, Newman declared:
"I wish, with all my heart, to be buried in Fr Ambrose St John’s grave - and I give this as my last, my imperative will."
"According to the religion of the Saracens, any sexual act whatever is not only allowed but approved and encouraged, so that in addition to innumerable prostitutes, they have effeminate men in great number who shave their beards, paint their faces, put on women's clothing, wear bracelets on their arms and legs and gold necklaces around their necks as women do, and adorn their chests with jewels. Thus selling themselves into sin, they degrade and expose thier bodies; "men working that which is unseemly" they receive "in themselves" the recompense of their sin and error. The Saracens, oblivious of human dignity, freely resort to these effeminates or live with them as among us men and women live together openly." [William of Ada]The reaction of Islam to this kind of propaganda, was, of course, repression of its own. To prove the Christians wrong, Islam came to a repressive stance of its own, eventually outdoing even Christianity in its repression of homosexuality. As we have seen, the Koran is explicit in its condemnation of same gender sexual activity so this response to Christian propoganda was easy to justify. I suspect that the two cultures then became embroilled in a "bidding war" to see which could be more "righteous" in its condemnation of "sodomy".
By the latter half of the 12th century, an increasingly conformist Europe found minorities of all kinds, including homosexuals, to be irritating. The writings of St. Aelred were lost because they were kept locked up in Cistercian monasteries. There were also at this time violent outbursts against Jews, Muslims, and witches. Women were suddenly excluded from power structures to which they had previously had access. They were no longer able, for example, to attend universities in which they had previously been enrolled. Double monasteries for men and women - often governed by an Abbess - were closed. There was suspicion of everyone. In 1180 AD the Jews were expelled from France. Tracts against "sodomites" began to appear, and propaganda intended to incite anger against them became common.
While the Spanish Inquisition was without a doubt its harshest manifestation, the Inquisition itself was a church-wide phenomenon whose harshly repressive hand was felt throughout the Catholic world. Muslims and Jews were not the only ones to feel the heavy hand of the Inquisition. Sexual minorities were particular targets, as the pressure to conform increased. Social critics began to single out "sodomites" for special persecution. Peter Cantor (d. 1197 AD) was the first to argue that Romans 1:26-27 referred specifically to "sodomites". The term "sodomy" came, for the first time and against all theological precedent, to refer exclusively to homosexual sex. At Cantor's urging, the Third Lateran Council (1179 AD) became the first to rule specifically on homosexual acts.
"Clergy in holy orders, who maintain their wives incontinently in their homes should either expel them, and live continently, or be deprived of ecclesiastical office and benefice.This is the only canon of an Oecumenical council which could be construed as condemning homosexuality. It is clearly a disciplinary decree, not dogmatic. Moreover, the "incontinence which is against nature" could be bestiality. It passed into the permanent collections of canon law in the following century.
The change was rapid. In England in the 12th century there were no laws against Jews and they occupied prominent positions in society. By the end of the 13th century, sleeping with a Jew was equated with sleeping with an animal or with murder! All Jews were expelled from England. In Spain, they were required to wear a "Jewish badge". In France, Jews, according to St. Louis, were to be killed on the spot if they questioned the Christian faith. During this time there many popular diatribes were written against "sodomites", suggesting that they molested children, violated the natural law, were sub-human, and brought harm to any nation which tolerated them. Between 1250 and 1350 AD, almost every Western European state passed civil laws demanding death for a single "sodomitical" act! This popular movement infected Christian theology. Throughout the 12th century homosexual relations, had, at worst, been comparable to heterosexual fornication for married people, and, at best, not sinful at all. During the 13th Century, because of this popular reaction, writers like Thomas Aquinas tried to portray homosexuality as one of the very worst sins, second only to murder.
"Now though the semen is superfluous for the preservation of the individual, yet it is necessary to him for the propagation of the species... the object in the emission of the semen, is... the profit of generation, to which the union of the sexes is directed... The emission of the semen then ought to be so directed as that both the proper generation may ensue and the education of the offspring be secured.
Hence it is clear that every emission of the semen is contrary to the good of man, which takes place in a way whereby generation is impossible; and if this is done on purpose, it must be a sin. I mean a way in which generation is impossible in itself as is the case in every emission of the semen without the natural union of male and female: wherefore such sins are called 'sins against nature'. But if it is by accident that generation cannot follow from the emission of the semen, the act is not against nature on that account, nor is it sinful; the case of the woman being barren would be a case in point."This would seem to amount to special pleading. For Aquinas, as an Aristotelian, it was "accidental" for a woman (or man) to be infertile, because infertility was (obviously!) not essential to (wo)man! On the one hand he claims that every emission of semen that is purposefully frustrated from engendering a child is wrong, then excludes one case: because, one might say that one didn't intend that one's wife was barren, but is just "putting up with" - or "taking advantage of" - the fact.
"... in human acts the line of natural rectitude is not drawn to suit the accidental variety of the individual, but the properties common to the whole species... Marriage then is natural to man, and an irregular connexion outside of marriage is contrary to the good of man; therefore fornication must be sinful."This might be taken to mean that what is good for the majority should be imposed on those for whom it is not good. All that Aquinas is actually saying is that what should be labelled as natural to a species is that which is for the common good of the species. From this it does not follow that any activity on the part of an individual of that species that is not natural is sinful. The sinfulness of fornication lies (as Thomas himself implies) in the fact that every act of sexual intercourse that is open to procreation risks engendering a child, and this is reckless when there is no intention to provide for its upbringing.
"Nor yet should it be counted a slight sin for one to procure the emission of the semen irrespective of the due purpose of generation and rearing of issue, on the pretence that it is a slight sin, or no sin at all, to apply any part of one's body to another use than that to which it is naturally ordained, as if, for example, one were to walk on his hands, or do with his feet something that ought to be done with his hands. The answer is that by such inordinate applications as those mentioned the good of man is not greatly injured: but the inordinate emission of the semen is repugnant to the good of nature, which is the conservation of the species. Hence, after the sin of murder, whereby a human nature already in actual existence is destroyed, this sort of sin seems to hold the second place, whereby the generation of human nature is precluded."It is obvious that Aquinas is here conscious of the weakness of his argument. The rejoinder to his answer is obvious: that the common good of the species requires only that in sufficient instances the emission of semen is procreative, not that in all instances it should be. His conclusion that masturbation "seems" to be the second worst sin, after murder is so extreme as to be laughable. In fact, Aquinas later modified his position. In his mature work, the Summa Theologica, he remarks that:
"A duty may be of two sorts: it may be enjoined on the individual as a duty which cannot be ignored without sin, or it may be enjoined upon a group. In the latter cases no one individual is obligated to fulfil the duty. The obligation regarding procreation applies to the human race as a whole. It is therefore sufficient for the race if some goodly number of people undertake to procreate."Aquinas further admits in the Summa Theologica that homosexuality is an essential characteristic of certain individuals and therefore inculpable for them! He also concedes that the term "natural" in fact has no moral significance, but it can even be simply a term applied to things which are in fact, rightly or wrongly, strongly disapproved of:
"Homosexuality, is called 'the unnatural vice' by the common people, and hence it may be said to be unnatural."Indeed, Aquinas' teaching was itself an expression of the prejudice of his time. It did not derive its authority from the Bible or from the Catholic Tradition. Nevertheless, it became part of Catholic theological thought.
Writing in the next Century, St Bernardine of Siena went further. He claimed that "sodomy" was the greatest sin of all, and described "sodomites" in terms otherwise - sadly - reserved for the Jews:
"No sin in the world grips the soul as the accursed sodomy; this sin has always been detested by all those who live according to God…
In SummaryWhat we seem to have is the following.
Sts Augustine, Chrysostom and Gregory pick up on St Paul's general unease with human sexuality and tend to erect it into a principle. Nevertheless, the general sense of the Tradition is much more "positive" about sex in general and homosexuality in particular: in line with Old Testament teaching. In the late Middle Ages, for reasons that are not clear, first the State and then the Church became increasingly hostile to all forms of same gender affection. While still not explicitly condemned in official teaching, strenuous efforts were made to eradicate any pretext or apparent approbation for homosexuality. For more details, read Boswell's other relevant academic publication "Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality" (Chicago, 1980).
One must remember that the reason for looking at the evolving and living Tradition is to try and discern what is Apostolic. What was the explicit or implicit teaching of Our Lord Jesus and His Apostles? The fact that some set of saints or popes happened to teach something over some period is not necessarily of any particular significance. They may have been doing nothing more than repeating commonly accepted secular prejudice, without realizing that they were secularizing the Church rather than evangelizing the World. The question always has to be asked: is this corpus of teaching authentic? In the end this is decided by the Magisterium (and that decision recognized as correct by The Church as a Whole). In the interim, one has no choice but to make one's own judgement based on prayerful study; and in particular on the conformance of the matter to the core of the Faith.
A Prayer of St Aelred of Rievaulx
"Sweet Lord, release wisdom from the seat of your greatness that it may be with us, toil with us, work with us, speak in us. May she, according to your good pleasure, direct our thoughts, words, and all our works and counsels, to the honour of your Name, the profit of the community, and our salvation. Through our friend Jesus Christ, to whom; with you and Holy Spirit, be honour and glory throughout all ages. Amen."
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