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When Same-Sex Marriage Was a Christian Rite 
11th-Dec-2009 10:47 am
Psyche
Contrary to myth, Christianity's concept of marriage has not been set in stone since the days of Christ, but has constantly evolved as a concept and ritual. 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.

Original Article or

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.

Is the icon suggesting that a gay "wedding" is being sanctified by Christ himself? The idea seems shocking. But the full answer comes from other early Christian sources about the two men featured in the icon, St. Sergius and St. Bacchus, two Roman soldiers who were Christian martyrs. These two officers in the Roman army incurred the anger of Emperor Maximian when they were exposed as ‘secret Christians’ by refusing to enter a pagan temple. Both were sent to Syria circa 303 CE where Bacchus is thought to have died while being flogged. Sergius survived torture but was later beheaded. Legend says that Bacchus appeared to the dying Sergius as an angel, telling him to be brave because they would soon be reunited in heaven.

While the pairing of saints, particularly in the early Christian church, was not unusual, the association of these two men was regarded as particularly intimate. Severus, the Patriarch of Antioch (AD 512 - 518) explained that, "we should not separate in speech they [Sergius and Bacchus] who were joined in life". This is not a case of simple "adelphopoiia." In the definitive 10th century account of their lives, St. Sergius is openly celebrated as the "sweet companion and lover" of St. Bacchus. Sergius and Bacchus's close relationship has led many modern scholars to believe they were lovers. But the most compelling evidence for this view is that the oldest text of their martyrology, written in New Testament Greek describes them as "erastai,” or "lovers". In other words, they were a male homosexual couple. Their orientation and relationship was not only acknowledged, but it was fully accepted and celebrated by the early Christian church, which was far more tolerant than it is today.

Contrary to myth, Christianity's concept of marriage has not been set in stone since the days of Christ, but has constantly evolved as a concept and ritual.

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.

At St. John Lateran in Rome (traditionally the Pope's parish church) in 1578, as many as thirteen same-gender couples were joined during a high Mass and with the cooperation of the Vatican clergy, "taking communion together, using the same nuptial Scripture, after which they slept and ate together" according to a contemporary report. Another woman to woman union is recorded in Dalmatia in the 18th century.

Prof. Boswell's academic study is so well researched and documented that it poses fundamental questions for both modern church leaders and heterosexual Christians about their own modern attitudes towards homosexuality.

For the Church to ignore the evidence in its own archives would be cowardly and deceptive. The evidence convincingly shows that what the modern church claims has always been its unchanging attitude towards homosexuality is, in fact, nothing of the sort.

It proves that for the last two millennia, in parish churches and cathedrals throughout Christendom, from Ireland to Istanbul and even in the heart of Rome itself, homosexual relationships were accepted as valid expressions of a God-given love and committment to another person, a love that could be celebrated, honored and blessed, through the Eucharist in the name of, and in the presence of, Jesus Christ.


Updates
Corrected Article Link

Article Written By
ThosPayne at The Colfax Record.

Books Written by Prof. John Boswell
Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe and Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century
Comments 
11th-Dec-2009 04:01 pm (UTC)
YES! thank you, I've been looking for that article for about a year now.
11th-Dec-2009 04:23 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting, this was really interesting!
11th-Dec-2009 04:25 pm (UTC)
OH yes, very interesting! I'm glad you posted this!
11th-Dec-2009 04:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you! This is fascinating.
11th-Dec-2009 04:46 pm (UTC)
Wow, this is fascinating. Thank you for posting this!
11th-Dec-2009 04:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the look into history!
11th-Dec-2009 04:56 pm (UTC)
Great article, thanks for passing it along!
11th-Dec-2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
would you mind if i xposted this to my own journal and some gay LJ communities?
11th-Dec-2009 11:18 pm (UTC)
Not at all! The whole point of this community is to generate discussion :)
11th-Dec-2009 05:15 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'd known that the church's attitude to marriage had altered a lot over the centuries, but this was new to me!

It ties in well with my suspicions that a lot of attitudes changed/hardened in reaction to the Cathars.
11th-Dec-2009 05:26 pm (UTC)
That's interesting and enlightening. Especially since fundamentalists can't quit repeating homosexuality is a sin.
11th-May-2012 06:44 am (UTC)
It is quite interesting that you would talk of fundamentals. While I do quote, or make reference to Genesis 19, it is also written in the Qu'ran that Allah destroyed the two cities also. One must take an understanding that not only the most devote Christian states this, but Muslims also.

I would only assume, since this is only an assumption, if the liberal professors from Yale; yes, they are liberal, the purpose I would consider is to keep the Priests celebate. The professors are as they say in the Scriptures, "of a reprobate mind".

Should, or when Islam becomes the controlling religion of the USA, homosexuals will be heading for the hills because in Muhammid's Hadith states to kill them. When Islam kicks in, there will be alot of bloodshed, but a number of us will die also because it is stated in the Qu'ran to kill the People of the Book.
11th-Dec-2009 05:30 pm (UTC)
:) very interesting
11th-Dec-2009 05:35 pm (UTC)
love your icon
11th-Dec-2009 05:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting!
11th-Dec-2009 05:43 pm (UTC) - The EO Church in opposition to this theory
I did an ethnography at an EO parish last year, and feel it's my responsibility to check Boswell's theory about their rites with their own traditional understanding...

Interestingly, The Orthodox Church, in which the adelphopoiesis rite was practiced, has completely disagreed that adelphopoiesis was anything more than a union of spiritual brotherhood.

http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/blog/2009/03/19/pushing-the-gay-agenda-in-the-greek-archdiocese/

While this is certainly interesting news, it's likely that the EO Church knows more about their own rites than a modern historian. In fact, Boswell's theory is debunked here:

http://www.newoxfordreview.org/reviews.jsp?print=1&did=1294-viscuso

Edited at 2009-12-11 05:46 pm (UTC)
11th-Dec-2009 06:01 pm (UTC) - Re: The EO Church in opposition to this theory
Thanks for posting these links as well.
11th-Dec-2009 06:06 pm (UTC)
Cool. Thanks for posting!
11th-Dec-2009 07:00 pm (UTC)
That's very interesting. Thanks so much for posting this, I'll definitely use this as a reference in heated arguments in the future ;D.
11th-Dec-2009 09:09 pm (UTC)
Fantastic! Thank you!
13th-Dec-2009 06:13 pm (UTC) - How would I describe this delicately....?
Irrelevant.

Yup. That's the word. My personal feelings aside*, what's happened or allegedly happened throughout Christianity's colorful history should, by the definition of Faith, have very little itty bitty to do with how and what any one Christian in the here and now believes.

In a nut shell, if you believe the Bible is the infallible world of God (that's what faith would be, the whole point of the religion thingie), then homosexuality is a sin and therefore unacceptable.

If you believe that the Bible is a moral buffet, then by all means, you get to believe whatever you want. Martyrs and priests alike.**

* I don't get how people can on one hand ask that so-and-so act like they used to act in order to become sophisticated and yet ride them all the more for being either hypocrites or crackpots.
** Martyrs are labeled by people, and people - of ALL faiths! - decide what's PC in their own time. One of my favorite reasons for wanting nothing to do with Christianity (or any faith) is that there're too many crappy Christians. :p
13th-Dec-2009 08:06 pm (UTC) - Re: How would I describe this delicately....?
Oh, I completely agree with you! I mean, the Church history is made by people, who make mistakes. But the Bible says very clearly that homosexuality is a sin, so any posts like this one don't make sense.
10th-May-2012 11:35 pm (UTC)
"The neutrality of this article is disputed. Please see the discussion on the talk page. Please do not remove this message until the dispute is resolved. (January 2011)"
23rd-Jan-2010 07:29 pm (UTC)
Hi, I'm potentially writing a paper on homosexuality and the Bible (in various translations) and I'd like to use this article as a reference, or to at least help guide my search.

I tried clicking the link to the original article but it didn't work. Is there another way to get there? Do you have anything else like this?
23rd-Jan-2010 09:45 pm (UTC)
I've looked around and can't find out who wrote the article (and the article isn't on the colfax website anymore). You might think about contacting them asking for a copy and author name, etc.

The book the article is written about is "The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe", and it's $2 on amazon. The author's name is Prof. John Boswell. He's got a decent sized Wikipedia entry, with a lot of other references you might be able to use for your paper.
10th-May-2012 11:54 am (UTC)
This article is quite simply driven by ideology, intellectually sloppy and wrong.

The ceremonies he refers to are well known in the east as a sort of 'holy brotherhood' there is certainly no evidence they were in any way sexual, it is a sad sign of this perverse age that people presume that being close to someone requires sexual love or desire.

10th-May-2012 11:56 am (UTC)
The church fathers are also clear on the matter:

' "All of these affections [in Rom. 1:26-27]… were vile, but chiefly the mad lust after males; for the soul is more the sufferer in sins, and more dishonored than the body in diseases." John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans 4 (A.D. 391).

"[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." John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans 4 (A.D. 391).

"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." John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans 4 (A.D. 391).

"[T]hose 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." Augustine, Confessions 3:8:15 (A.D. 400).

"[Christians] abhor all unlawful mixtures, and that which is practiced by some contrary to nature, as wicked and impious." Apostolic Constitutions 6:11 (A.D. 400).
10th-May-2012 12:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for posting this!! Once again, the christian/catholic church has been proven to be influenced by personal feelings of the people in charge as this article proves since what is now illegal and considered a sin, was once respected and encouraged in the church!!! And people wonder why I do not believe in religion but just walk and talk with my Creator every day!!! I am not religious as religion was created and is perpetrated by men, not by the Creator!! Thank you once again for posting the TRUTH!!!!!
10th-May-2012 02:11 pm (UTC)
I have some literature too. The Bible which is the Inspired word of God is emphatic against same-sex unions. All the examples of same-sex unions throughout history, endorsed by those who supposedly(but don't) represent Christianity & God never validates a practice which is both Biblically & by Nature amiss. Nice try Prof., but your argument for acceptance of this practice as a one-time Christian Rite doesn't stack up.
10th-May-2012 03:50 pm (UTC)
Homosexuality is amiss by nature? I beg to differ:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_animals_displaying_homosexual_behavior
10th-May-2012 02:24 pm (UTC)
"For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." 2 Timothy 4:3

History doesn't line up with your agenda? Re-write it. The Bible conflicts with your own selfish desires and lifestyle? Re-write it.
10th-May-2012 03:03 pm (UTC)
Bravo, so true, and so sad, we must pray for such lost souls
10th-May-2012 03:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you for posting this. Would it be possible to 'fix' the link to the original article - the link ends up at a dreaded 404 error.
10th-May-2012 09:33 pm (UTC)
10th-May-2012 03:35 pm (UTC)
Do you notice that none of the sources of this piece are biblical? It's all based on researches done by people to try and justify homosexuality and perhaps smuggle it into the church. The Bible is clear on homosexuality. Even if some people in church embrace it, as far as the Christian faith is concerned, it remains unacceptable. The Bible should be our only reference. You can check out the following scriptures: Genesis Chapter 18-19, Romans Chapter 1:24-26 and Jude 7.
10th-May-2012 05:21 pm (UTC)
" Do you notice that none of the sources of this piece are biblical? I "...yes, I did notice....thats what prompted my earlier comment....if you're goning to do what you do...." just do it " and stop trying to MAKE the Bible say it's acceptable....and then you have those who, with all of their " intelligent, scholarly, biblical exegetical skills, along with their languistc capabilities, who attempt to explain away what GOD said and replace it with what they.... " want it to mean ".....just do your thing and stop trying to excuse it ....SMH
(Deleted comment)
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