At a time when some Catholic bishops are actively intervening in the political process to prevent gay marriage and gay adoption, it could be helpful to remember that in the long history of the Christian faith, outright hostility to same sex relationships has not always been inevitable. In the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, and in the early, medieval and modern church, there have been numerous examples of Christian recognition of same sex relationships, both as formal rites and procedures, and by personal example.
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- God & Adam: Chris Glaser (“Coming out As Sacrament“) has observed that the very first love story in the Bible, and certainly the most important, can be viewed as between two “males” – that between God and Adam. Yes, it is completely false and simplistic just to accept the conventional pronoun and to think of God in purely masculine terms, but the point is an important one. Whoever we are, male female or neither, we know that God loves us. We may think of God in whatever gendered terms we like – and that could certainly include a same-sex relationship.
- David & Jonathan: Many people protest that there is no evidence that the relationship between these two took physical form, but a more compelling argument is that there is also no evidence that it did not – and there is substantial evidence of its emotional intensity. It is also one of the two relationships which represent the longest love stories in the Bible. The other is another which is about a same sex pair – Ruth and Naomi.
- Ruth & Naomi Here too there are naysayers arguing that this is “just” a family relationship, but this misses the point. Whatever else it is, this is clearly a story of a deep emotional love and mutual commitment between two women.
- Jesus & the Beloved Disciple: We cannot know precisely the nature of this relationship, but it was clearly a close one. We also do not know for certain the identity of the Beloved Disciple, although many people assume it is John the Evangelist. (There was even a long standing tradition in some parts of the Church, that the couple being married at Cana were Jesus and John). Others disagree, suggesting Lazarus, among other possibilities.
- Martha & Mary – Described in the New Testament as ‘sisters’, but this may have been a euphemism for lesbian lovers.
- Philip and Bartholomew: Included in the Apostles, cited together in the Eucharistic prayer of the Mass, these were frequently named as a couple in the early liturgies of same-sex union.
- The Roman Centurion and his “pais” (= slave/lover) represent the clearest possible evidence that Christ himself did not reject people in same -sex relationships, and was even willing to go into the home of the Roman – an extraordinary thing for a Jew to do, in the context of the deep resentment against the Roman military occupation.
- St Paul and Timothy are sometimes named as possibly having a relationship that was more than just spiritual.
- Euodia and Syntyche of Phillippi were a missionary couple active in the early church , mentioned in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:2-3)
- Tryphaena and Tryphosa were a further missionary couple active in the early church, mentioned in in Rom 16.
The Early & Medieval Church
In the early church, many saints and martyrs are remembered as pairs of lovers. The church also created and used formal rites for church blessing couples committing to each other in same sex unions. In addition to liturgical recognition of these unions at their start, some couple also achieved church recognition at their dissolution in death, by being buried together in church tombs, in a manner exactly comparable to that widely used for conventionally married couples.
Here are some examples:
- SS Sergius & Bacchus, Roman soldiers, lovers, martyrs and recognised as saints by popular acclamation, are by a long way the best known of the so-called “gay saints” (although I prefer to use the descriptor “queer”).
- SS Polyeuct and Nearchos, are not as well known as Sergius and Bacchus, but like them were Roman soldiers and martyrs who became recognized as saints. They are frequently named together in the liturgical rites of same-sex union.
- St Paulinus of Nola was a Bishop who also wrote homoerotic poetry to his male lover, Ausonius
Other paired saints who were often named in these rites and other liturgies (including, in some cases, the Mass) are
- The ‘two Theodores’, one a foot soldier martyred in the fourth century, and the other a general invented in the ninth century to form a pair, are often depicted with their arms around one another, and they are paired together with Serge and Bacchus in Kievan icons dating from before the twelfth century.
- Peter and Paul
- Peter and Andrew
- Jacob and John
- Philip and Bartholomew
- Cosmos and Damian
- Cyrus and John
- Marcellus and Apuleius
- Cyprian and Justinus
- Dionysius and Eleutheris
- George and Demetrius.
Some couples who were found by archaeologists to have been buried together in Macedonia in the 4th to the 6th centuries were:
- Faustinos and Donatos (at Phillippi),
- Posidonia, and Pancharia,
- Kyriakos and Nikandros,
- Gourasios and Konstantios,
- Euodiana and Dorothea (at Phillippi),
- Martyrios, a presbyter, and Demetrios, a lector (at Edessa),
- Eudoxios, presbyter, and John, a deacon described as “the sinner” (at Edessa),
- Droseria and Eudoxia (at Edessa),
- Athanasios and Chryseros: buried together at Edessa, in Macedonia. 5th to 6th century.
- Alexandra and Glukeria: buried together at Phillippi, in Macedonia. 6th century
- St Patrick of Ireland: after his escape from early slavery, Patrick worked for time as a male prostitute. A recent history of Irish homosexualilty suggests that he may have taken a male lover in later life
- St Brigid of Ireland may have had a female lover, Darlughdach – although, as with many of the early saints, the historical details of her life are sketchy and unreliable.
- Several Bishops of the medieval church are known to have have had male sexual partners. Archbishop Ralph of Tours even got his boyfriend John, who had a well-deserved reputation for promiscuity, named as bishop of Orleans. Other bishops were renowned for the poetry and love letters they wrote to their boyfriends. (SeeThe Homoerotic Flowering of the Medieval Church)
It was not only the Eastern church that sometimes buried same sex couples in shared tombs. The historian Alan Bray (“The Friend“) has described the shared tombs of the Irish and English couples
- Dicul and Maelodran the wright (Delgany, County Wicklow);
- Ultan and Dubthach (Termonfechin, County Louth);
- John Bloxham and John Wyndham (Merton College Chapel, Oxford, 14th Century);
- William Neville & John Neville: English knights, buried together in Galata, near Constantinople 14th Century.
- Nicholas Molyneux and John Winters: made a compact of ‘sworn brotherhood, made in the church of St Martin of Harfleur. 15th century.
Renaissance to Modern
- John Finch and Thomas Baines were buried together in Christ’s College Chapel, Cambridge (17th Century).
- Fulke Greville & Sir Phillip Sidney: the joint monument Greville planned for himself and Sidney in St Paul’s cathedral was never built. But the simple intention alone indicates the natrure of the relationship, as also its recognition by the church.
- Cardinal John Henry Newman and Fr. Ambrose St.John were buried together, 19th C. There is no suggestion that their deep love was anything but celibate, in keeping with their vows. All the same, reflection on this relationship raises important questions about the response of the Catholic Church to same sex relationships in our own day.
- Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality
- Boswell, John: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe
- Glaser, Chris: Coming out As Sacrament
- Jennings, Theodore The Man Jesus Loved
- O’Neill, Denis: Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive People
- Nov 1st: All (Gay) Saints (queering-the-church.com)
- GLBT History Month (in Church): Cardinal Borghese (1576 – 1633), Homoerotic Art Lover (queering-the-church.com)
- St John the Evangelist, the “Beloved Disciple”: December 27th(myqueerscripture.blogspot.com)
- The Queer Bible: Beyond Family Values (myqueerscripture.blogspot.com)
- Sergius & Bacchus, 7th October: Patron Saints of Same Sex Lovers? (queering-the-church.com)