Monday, May 04, 2009

Same-sex marriage in Christian history

Jinxiboo's blog reports on Saint Sergius and Bacchus, officers in the Roman army exposed as secret Christians and martyred in the fourth century:
A Kiev art museum contains a curious icon from St. Catherine's Monastery on Mt. Sinai in Israel. It shows two robed Christian saints. Between them is a traditional Roman ‘pronubus’ (a best man), overseeing a wedding. The pronubus is Christ. The married couple are both men.
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Prof. John Boswell, the late Chairman of Yale University’s history department, discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient Christian church liturgical documents, there were also ceremonies called the "Office of Same-Sex Union" (10th and 11th century), and the "Order for Uniting Two Men" (11th and 12th century).

These church rites had all the symbols of a heterosexual marriage: the whole community gathered in a church, a blessing of the couple before the altar was conducted with their right hands joined, holy vows were exchanged, a priest officiatied in the taking of the Eucharist and a wedding feast for the guests was celebrated afterwards. These elements all appear in contemporary illustrations of the holy union of the Byzantine Warrior-Emperor, Basil the First (867-886 CE) and his companion John.

Such same gender Christian sanctified unions also took place in Ireland in the late 12thand/ early 13th century, as the chronicler Gerald of Wales (‘Geraldus Cambrensis’) recorded.

Same-sex unions in pre-modern Europe list in great detail some same gender ceremonies found in ancient church liturgical documents. One Greek 13th century rite, "Order for Solemn Same-Sex Union", invoked St. Serge and St. Bacchus, and called on God to "vouchsafe unto these, Thy servants [N and N], the grace to love one another and to abide without hate and not be the cause of scandal all the days of their lives, with the help of the Holy Mother of God, and all Thy saints". The ceremony concludes: "And they shall kiss the Holy Gospel and each other, and it shall be concluded".

Another 14th century Serbian Slavonic "Office of the Same Sex Union", uniting two men or two women, had the couple lay their right hands on the Gospel while having a crucifix placed in their left hands. After kissing the Gospel, the couple were then required to kiss each other, after which the priest, having raised up the Eucharist, would give them both communion.

Records of Christian same sex unions have been discovered in such diverse archives as those in the Vatican, in St. Petersburg, in Paris, in Istanbul and in the Sinai, covering a thousand-years from the 8th to the 18th century.

The Dominican missionary and Prior, Jacques Goar (1601-1653), includes such ceremonies in a printed collection of Greek Orthodox prayer books, “Euchologion Sive Rituale Graecorum Complectens Ritus Et Ordines Divinae Liturgiae” (Paris, 1667).

While homosexuality was technically illegal from late Roman times, homophobic writings didn’t appear in Western Europe until the late 14th century. Even then, church-consecrated same sex unions continued to take place.

The evangelical Christian response will likely be to either question whether these were really like "marriage" or reject them as Satan-inspired evil that shows how far astray the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches have gone.

Wikipedia has more on Sergius and Bacchus.

11 comments:

Ktisophilos said...

But Camille Paglia denounced Boswell’s research despite having everything to gain by supporting it (‘Plighting Their Troth’, Guardian Weekly, 11 Sept. 1994, p. 18.):

“Despite sporadic qualifications, Boswell repeatedly implies a genital subtext to intense spiritual alliances, even when his supporting manuscripts make clearly uncarnal invocations to martyred paired saints, who died in the service of Christ. …

“Whatever medieval ceremonies of union may have been found, Boswell has not remotely established that they were originally homosexual in our romantic sense. Their real meaning has yet to be determined. Sacrilegious misuse of such ceremonies may indeed have occurred, leading to their banning, but historians are unjustified in extrapolating backwards and reducing fragmentary evidence to its lowest common denominator.

“The cause of gay rights, which I support, is not helped by this kind of slippery, self-interested scholarship, where propaganda and casuistry impede the objective search for truth.”

Jim Lippard said...

So the argument then is that while there were these same-sex unions, there was at least the pretense that there was no sexual contact between the participants?

Given the sexual activity of many purportedly celibate priests, I am somewhat skeptical.

Jim Lippard said...

To clarify: I am skeptical that the *reality* was that there was no sex, not that there wasn't such a pretense.

Ktisophilos said...

These unions were not even romantic, according to Paglia.

BTW, the priests you're thinking of really are celibate, since the word means "unmarried". Your beef is their lack of chastity, which was certainly meant to accompany their celibacy.

And what's with the "many"? I don't see the liberals ragging teachers because quite a lot of them have sexual relations with their students.

Jim Lippard said...

I appreciate the clarification on celibacy vs. chastity. The popular use of the former term is causing that distinction to be blurred.

I don't think your comparison between clergy abuse and teacher abuse is quite apt. Teachers who engage in sexual activity with underage students do get vilified in the press and the result is usually criminal prosecutions, and schools, unlike the Catholic Church, have not generally made a habit of attempting to conceal the abuse and move the perpetrator to another location to continue the abuse.

If you look at all sexual relationships between consenting adults, not just the abusive ones with children, priests are unlikely to be vilified in the press for their sexual activity, as opposed to for their hypocrisy. Teachers, by contrast, don't generally take a vow of chastity.

Ktisophilos said...

Is that so? The LA Times recently reported on many cases of sexual abuse in the Los Angeles Unified School District where the offender is simply put back into a classroom elsewhere:

“A jury late last year ordered the Los Angeles Unified School District to pay nearly $1.6 million to the families of three girls molested by Ricardo Guevara, who is now serving 15 years in prison for lewd acts with a child.

“But there was something the jury — and the public — was never told: This was the third set of accusations that Guevara had molested students. Twice before, when law enforcement officials had decided they lacked the evidence to win a criminal conviction, L.A. Unified officials had quietly put him back in the classroom.

“Guevara's case fits a pattern, a Times investigation shows: Repeatedly, the district failed to follow up on sexual misconduct complaints against employees once police or prosecutors dropped criminal actions. Some ended up at new schools. In at least one instance — involving Guevara — the new principal had no idea of his history.

“In three other cases documented by The Times, the employee went on to be charged with or convicted of molesting another student ...”

Moving sexual predators around was just like the scandalous way the Catholic Church moved abusive priests to new parishes. But there is precious little about this in other media, compared to the voluminous coverage of any abusive priest anywhere in the world, no matter how long ago.

Jim Lippard said...

To the extent those cases are like the RCC cases, I feel the same way about them and the administrators involved.

Ktisophilos said...

I thought you would.

A simple explanation for both is: those with proclivity to abuse minors sexually will gravitate to those occupations that allow them to be in a position of authority over said minors.

Jim Lippard said...

I think that explanation is sound--that's a good reason for carefully screening and monitoring people who are in such positions.

Similarly for any position of power--it's not just that power corrupts, but that corrupt people are attracted to positions of power.

If we selected political leaders at random, we probably wouldn't be any worse off than with democratic elections.

Ktisophilos said...

Well put.

Oh, I never thanked you for making the dates unambiguous, so here goes. Another request: place the most recent posts and blog entries higher up on the left column of the home page.

Jim Lippard said...

That's a good suggestion. I've accumulated a lot of widgets on the left side without thinking too much about the organization. I've done some rearranging now, to put the archives links and comments at the top, and some of the less useful items down lower.