I, through all chances that are given to mortals, And through all fates that be, So long as this close prison shall contain me, Yea, though a world shall sunder me and thee,Thee shall I hold, in every fibre woven, Not with dumb lips, nor with averted face Shall I behold thee, in my mind embrace thee,Instant and present, thou, in every place.Yea, when the prison of this flesh is broken, And from the earth I shall have gone my way, Wheresoe’er in the wide universe I stay me, There shall I bear thee, as I do today.Think not the end, that from my body frees me, Breaks and unshackles from my love to thee; Triumphs the soul above its house in ruin, Deathless, begot of immortality.Still must she keep her senses and affections, Hold them as dear as life itself to be, Could she choose death, then might she choose forgetting:Living, remembering, to eternity.
[trans. Helen Waddell, in Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse]
For more online, see Paul Hansall’s invaluable LGBT Catholic handbook, or the Catholic Encyclopedia. (Note though that the latter’s entry on Paulinus is an excellent case study on how official Church history scrupulously edits out our LGBT history. In a reasonably lengthy entry, Ausonius and the verses addressed to him are noted – but the essential facts that the relationship was passionate, or that the verses were clearly love poetry, are carefully filtered out.)
In print, see John Boswell’s “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality”, pp133 – 134.
Among all the multitude of queer saints, Joan of Arc is one of the most important. In her notorious martyrdom for heresy (a charge which in historical context included reference to her cross-dressing and defiance of socially approved gender roles), she is a reminder of the great persecution of sexual and gender minorities by the Inquisition, directly or at their instigation. In LGBT Christian history, “martyrs” applies not only to those martyred by the church, but also to those martyred by the church. In her rehabilitation and canonization, she is a reminder that the leaders and theologians of the church, those who were responsible for her prosecution and conviction, can be wrong, can be pronounced to be wrong, and can in time have their judgements overturned.(This is not just a personal view. Pope Benedict has made some very pointed remarks of his own to this effect, while speaking about Joan of Arc). In the same way, it is entirely possible (I believe likely) that the current dogmatic verdict of Vatican orthodoxy which condemns our relationships will also in time be rejected. We may even come to see some of the pioneers of gay theology, who have in effect endured a kind of professional martyrdom for their honesty and courage, rehabilitated and honoured by the Church, just as St Joan has been.
|Joan of Arc: Interrogation by the Bishop of Winchester (Paul Delaroche, 1797 -1856)
St Aelred, whose feast we celebrate today, is recognised in all sources as an important English saint, who lived in the north of England in the 12 C. As a young man, he joined the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx, later returning there as Abbott. He is remembered especially for his writings on friendship, some of which have led gay writers such as John Boswell to claim him as ‘homosexual’. For instances, Integrity USA, an Anglican LGBT organisation, have designated him as their patron. From the website of Integrity, this Collect for the feast of Aelred:
St Aelred, is recognised in all sources as an important English saint, who lived in the north of England in the 12 C. As a young man, he joined the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx, later returning there as Abbott. He is remembered especially for his writings on friendship, some of which have led gay writers such as John Boswell to claim him as ‘homosexual’. For instances, Integrity USA, an Anglican LGBT organisation, have designated him as their patron.
Others point to his work as insisting on chastity, and believe that his well-recognised male friendships were entirely non-sexual. Whatever the genital truth, we should remember and honour Aelred as a reminder of the important place of intimate (emotionally, if not sexually) relationships between same-sex couples in the history of the church.
From the Calendar of LGBT Saints:
How Aelred Made it to the American Book of Common Prayer
by Louie Crew, founder of Integrity, [email: lcrew@ANDROMEDA.RUTGERS.EDU]
Aelred was not in ECUSA’s calendar until a Roman Catholic head of history at Yale, John Boswell, wrote about him powerfully in his book Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality Boswell dwelt at length with the lesbigay positive evidence. That spurred Integrity member, the late Howard Galley, one of the major architects of the 1976 Prayer Book, to initiate the actions which finally led to Aelred’s inclusion: using Aelred’s own texts, Galley shaped the readings which appear in THE LESSER FEASTS AND FASTS, including this collect:
Pour into our hearts, O God, the Holy Spirit’s gift of love, that we, clasping each the other’s hand, may share the joy of friendship, human and divine, and with your servant Aelred, draw many to your community of love; through Jesus Christ the Righteous, who livers and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. AMEN
Select bibliography (From the Calendar of LGBT Saints)
Catholic Encyclopedia – entry on Aelred (available online)
Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, trans. Mary Eugenia Laker, (Kalamazoo MI: Cistercian Publications 1977), see esp. p. 21 on Aelred’s homosexual attractions.
Boswell, John, CSTH, 221-20
McGuire, Brian P, “Monastic Friendship and Toleration “, in Monks, Hermits and the Ascetic Traditions, Studies in Church History 22, ed. W.J. Shiels, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985) pp. 147-160
McGuire, Brian P, “Looking Back on Friendship: Medieval Experience and Modern Context”, Cistercian Studies 21:2 (1986), pp. 123-142
McGuire, Brian P., Brother and Lover: Aelred of Rievaulx, (New York: Crossroad, 1994)
In his earlier articles, McGuire, the foremost expert on early Cistercian bonding, professed to find explanations of Aelred as homosexual as “one-dimensional”, but in this book he more forthrightly identifies Aelred as homosexual.
McGuire, Brian Patrick, “Sexual Awareness and Identity in Aelred of Rievulx (1110-67)”, American Benedictine Review 45(1994): 184-226
This probably the best work of its kind out on Aelred. It is the most comprehensive, and actually covers more ground than Brother & Lover.
Russell, Kenneth C., “Aelred, the Gay Abbot of Rievaulx”, Studia Mystica 5:4 (Winter 1982), 51-64
The Roman soldiers, lovers and martyrs Sergius and Bacchus are well known examples of early queer saints. Polyeuct and Nearchos are not as familiar- but should be. John Boswell (“Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe“) names the two as one of the three primary pairs of same sex lovers in the early church, their martyrdom coming about half a century after Felicity and Perpetua, and about another half century before Sergius & Bacchus .
Like the later pair, Polyeuct and Nearchos were friends in the Roman army in Armenia. Nearchos was a Christian, Polyeuct was not. Polyeuct was married, to a woman whose father was a Roman official. When the father-in-law undertook as part of his duties to enforce a general persecution of the local Christians, he realized that this would endanger Polyeuct, whose close friendship with Nearchos could tempt him to side with the Christians. The concern was fully justified: although Polyeuct was not himself a Christian, he refused to prove his loyalty to Rome by sacrificing to pagan gods. In terms of the regulations being enforced, this meant that he would sacrifice his chances of promotion, but (as a non-Christian) not his life. Christians who refused to sacrifice faced beheading. When Nearchos learned of this, he was distraught, not at the prospect of death in itself, but because in dying, he would enter Paradise without the company of his beloved Polyeuct. When Polyeuct learned the reasons for his friends anguish, he decided to become a Christian himself, so that he too could be killed, and enter eternity together with Nearchos.
b. March 20, 1947
d. December 24, 1994
- Schlager, Bernard, Profile of John Boswell, Religious Archives Network
- Kuefler, Matthew: The Boswell Thesis: Essays on Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality
Selected works by John Boswell:
“Polyeuctus and Nearchus were fellow-officers and close friends, serving in the Roman army at Miletene in Armenia. Nearchus was a Christian. Polyeuctus, though abundant in virtues, was still imprisoned in idol- worship. When the Emperor Decius’ persecution broke out (239-251), an edict was issued requiring all soldiers to show their loyalty by making public sacrifice to the gods. Nearchus sadly told Polyeuctus that because of the decree they would soon be parted. But Polyeuctus, who had learned about the Christian faith from his friend, answered that Christ had appeared to him in a vision, exchanging his military uniform for a shining garment and giving him a winged horse. Polyeuctus took the vision as a sign that he was to embrace the Faith, and that he, with Nearchus, would soon be lifted up to heaven. Almost immediately, he first tore down the Emperor’s edict in front of a startled crowd, then smashed the idols being carried in a pagan procession. He was quickly arrested and subjected to beating and scourging for sacrilege, but he only proclaimed more forcefully that he was a Christian. When the persecutors saw that Polyeuctus’ patient endurance was bringing other idolaters to the faith, they condemned him to death.”
The CDF’s famous (or infamous) letter “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” makes the claim “Thus, the Church’s teaching today is in organic continuity with the Scriptural perspective and with her own constant Tradition” , and later states “Scripture bids us speak the truth in love”. This is the image that the established church so likes to proote – of an authoritative, unchanging tradition “speaking the truth” for all time. The image favoured by the church, howeer, is a false one.
In the context of current arguments about the papacy and its authority, it is worth recalling just how false is this proposition: for the tradition has not been “unchanging”, nor has it always spoken “truth”. Indeed, the only constant over 2000 years of church history has been that of constant change.
Josephus at “Salus Animarum” has been posting on reflections prompted by reading of Alan Bray‘s “The Friend”, and sharing thoughts on church history. This is a useful point then to remind readers of just how much church practice concerning same sex relationships has changed over two millenia. The present intransigent attitude of the church against “gay marriage”, or even against civil partnerships, obscures the fact that in other times and places the church has sanctioned some form of same sex relationships, and even provided them with liturgical recognition.
John Boswell was the first scholar to establish in his research that the early church included a liturgical rite of “adelphopoeisis”, or “making of brothers”. This he identified as having some of the characteristics pertaining to the marriage forms of his day. In his two books, he also drew attention to the number of prominent churchmen and women in earlier times who are known to have had intimate same sex relationships in their own lives. Bernadette Brooten has extended this research into same sex relationships in early Christianity with a particular focus on women, while Alan Bray approached the topic from a different angle: in “The Friend”, he examined a number of instances of English and other churches where tombstones and church records tell of same sex couples buried in single graves, in exactly the same way that married couples sometimes were. Like Boswell, he too finds evidence in the early church of a rite of “adelphopoeisis”. Like Bray, in tun, Valerie Abrahamsen has examined evidence of same sex burials – from Macedonia in the 6th Century.
Scholars, of course, differ amongst themselves about the precise significance of these findings – in particular, whether these relationships can be thought of as resembling marriage rites, or even if there is likely to have been any erotic implications to them at all. I do not wish to go into these nuances – it is enough for my purpose simply to show that liturgical practice concerning same sex relationships has changed. Today they are vigourously opposed in any form, but in earlier times, from the early church in Rome and Byzantium, to much more recent periods in Western Europe, the Church has provided liturgical recognition for some form of same sex relationships at their formation, and at their dissolution at death.
Many other examples of changes in church teaching and practice could easily be produced – priestly celibacy was not required for the first millenium of history, marriage was not recognised as a sacrament, the church before modern times endorsed slavery and the inferior position of women (in its practice, it still does – but I am not going to venture down that path at present).
But most important, is to recognise that the papacy and the institution of papal power have themselves been subject to constant change. It is worth remembering that the origins of the current fuss lie exactly in the repudiation by the SSPX of the Second Vatican Council – a council notable, among other things, for its attempt to recast the balance of power within the Church, with a much enhanced role for the laity. Even the doctrine of papal infallibility, so widely known but so widely misunderstood, is of relatively recent origin.
Even the institution itself does not extend back to the earliest days of the church. Before there was a pope, the Bishop of Rome was just one among many, then one of 5 patriarchs of equal stature. After the rise of Islam placed the patriarchs of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandra under Muslim domination, just two patriarchs, of Rome and Constantinople, remained. In time, the Bishop of Rome acquired special status and power in the Western church, while that of Constantinople did so in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
I have come across a fascinating series of articles by Tom Lee in the Australian internet forum “Catolica”, which has been tracing in weekly instalments, the story of the first 500 years of the Christian church and “the invention” of the papacy. I have found the early chapters riveting reading, for the insightful picture they paint of the historical setting for the Gospels, and the beginnings of the spread of the Christianity. I look forward to reading the rest.
As we continue to watch, fascinated, the extraordinary machinations in Vatican City over SSPX, or despair at ongoing stupidities on sexuality, we can perhaps take comfort from the changing past. The one thing we know for sure is that the papacy and its teachings, as we now know them will certainly change. What we don’t yet know, is how – or when.