Monthly Archives: May 2010

Peter Gomes, Out Theologian

b. May 22, 1942
There can be no light without the darkness out of which it shines.
Peter Gomes offers a look at religion from a distinctive perspective. Gomes, a Reverend and Professor at Harvard University, argues that the Bible is neither anti-Semitic, anti-feminist nor anti-gay.
In 1991, Peninsula, a conservative Harvard magazine, published a 56-page issue largely critical of homosexuality. Gomes denounced the magazine and came out publicly at Harvard’s Memorial Church. A small group called Concerned Christians at Harvard immediately called for his resignation, but Gomes received support from the Harvard administration.
Renowned for both his teaching and his preaching, Reverend Gomes is the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard and the Pusey Minister at Harvard’s Memorial Church. A graduate of Bates College in 1965 and Harvard Divinity School in 1968, he also studied at the University of Cambridge, where he is an Honorary Fellow and where the Gomes Lectureship was established in his honor. Gomes holds thirty-three honorary degrees. Religion and American Life named him Clergy of the Year in 1998, and he won the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award from Harvard in 2001. Gomes offered prayers at the inaugurations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Gomes is a widely published author. Of the ten volumes of sermons and numerous articles and papers he has written, two of his works – “The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart” (1996) and Sermons: “Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living” (1998) – were New York Times and national bestsellers.
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Alcuin of Tours

Alcuin was an Englishman who, after a period as monk and teacher at the great cathedral of York, served at the court of Charlemagne, whom he had met while returning from a visit to Rome. The Emperor recruited him to his court specifically because he recognised in him the potential to achieve a renaissance of learning and church reform. Note that the widely reproduced picture of him above, as well as another extant painting, shows him presenting books of learning.
We usually think of the “renaissance”, as a rediscovery of classical thought, as dating from several centuries later, but in many respects he was an early precursor.

He kept copies of important works by the great Latin writers, and also explored many different fields of learning: in addition to theology, literature and poetry, he is also remembered for some notable mathematical problems he formulated, and which are still known today as popular diversions, such as an early version of the problem with transporting a wolf, a goat and a cabbage across a river. However, he was not known so much as an original thinker, but as a superb scholar, teacher and guide.
I warm to this image of Alcuin, as the kind of person I would like to be: one who collects and shares knowledge from a range of sources, digging into the past while looking for reform – and blending literature, theology and mathematics. (My degree is in mathematics, but I also have a deep love for books  of all kinds, and worked for several years as a school librarian.)
The  case for Alcuin’s inclusion in a collection of  queer saints does not rest on any known sexual adventures (he was after all a monk, and sworn to celibacy), but rather for the quantity of passionate letters he wrote to some (very) close clerical friends and pupils, and for some notable poetry. Alcuin is the third early saint and cleric that I know of whose poetry is represented in the Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse. (The others are Saints Paulinus of Nola, andVenantius Fortunatus.)
One of his poems which is widely quoted in this regard is about a departed cuckoo. At first reading, there is nothing particularly “gay” about this. The key, however, lies in understanding the background.  This was written to one close pupil and friend about the recent departure of another – who is represented as the cuckoo. So this poem is in fact a description one man makes to a close male friend about the sense of loss and pain felt at the loss of another, mutual, friend. (“Daphnis” in line 20 is the pet name Alcuin used for the friend he is addressing in the poem. The departed friend, he referred to as “Dodo”.)

 

“Lament for a Cuckoo”
O cuckoo that sang to us and art fled,
Where’er thou wanderest, on whatever shore
Thou lingerest now, all men bewail thee dead,
They say our cuckoo will return no more.
Ah, let him come again, he must not die,
Let him return with the returning spring,
And waken all the songs he used to sing.
but will he come again? I know not, I.
I fear the dark sea breaks above his head,
Caught in the whirlpool, dead beneath the waves,
Sorrow for me, if that ill god of wine
Hath drowned him deep where young things find their graves.
But if he lives yet, surely he will come,
Back to the kindly nest, from fierce crows.
Cuckoo, what took you from the nesting place?
But will he come again? That no man knows.
If your love sings, cuckoo, then come again,
Come again, come again, quick, pray you come.
Cuckoo, delay not, hasten thee home again,
Daphnis who loveth thee longs for his own.
Now spring is here again, wake from thy sleeping.
Alcuin the old man thinks long for thee.
Through the green meadows go the oxen grazing;
Only the cuckoo is not. Where is her?
Wail for the cuckoo, every where bewail him,
Joyous he left us: shall he grieving come?
let him come grieving, if he will but come again,
Yea, we shall weep with him, moan for his moan.
Unless a rock begat thee, thou wilt weep with us.
How canst thou not, thyself remembering?
Shall not the father weep the son he lost him,
Brother for brother still be sorrowing?
Once were we three, with but one heart among us.
Scare are we two, now that the third is fled.
Fled is he, fled is he, but the grief remaineth;
Bitter the weeping, for so dear a head.
Send a song after him, send a song of sorrow,
Songs bring the cuckoo home, or so they tell
Yet be thou happy, wheresoe’er thou wanderest
Sometimes remember us, Love, fare you well.
[trans. Helen Waddell, in Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse]

Calendar of LGBT Saints

BBC/Ancient History

The Gay Love Letters of Medieval Clerics

And the ever valuable

John Boswell: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality

 

 

Gay Bishops: How Many?

 

Bishop Mary Glasspool

Bishop Mary Glasspool has now been consecrated as a bishop in the diocese of Los Angeles, making her the second openly gay bishop in the Episcopal church. (There could soon be another Episcopal gay bishop. Rev Michael Barlowe is one of four candidates for a vacancy in Utah). Some sources are describing her as the second gay bishop  in history” – but that would be pushing it, and is breathtaking in its cultural myopia.  So, for context and a refresher once again of how deeply homoerotic relationships have been embedded in the Christian church, I offer some reminders.

 

Lesbian Bishop Eva Brunne GETTY

 

Mary Glasspool is the first openly lesbian bishop in the Episcopal church, but not the first globally: that would be Bishop  Eva Brunne, consecrated by the Swedish Lutherans last year.

Bishop Gene Robinson was the first modern bishop in the Anglican communion to be consecrated while openly gay, but there have been others before him who came out openly after being named bishop – for example, Otis Charles, also of Utah, Derek Rawcliffe of Glasgow and Galloway in the Scottish Episcopalian church, and Mervyn Castle of False Bay (part of the Archdiocese of Cape Town in the Anglican, “Church of the Province of South Africa”).

In the days of the early church, Bishop Paulinus of Nola not only had a boyfriend, he commemorated his love in some frankly erotic love poetry. Bishop Venantius Fortunatus was another. Both of these men are canonized saints. Bishop Arno of Salzburg may not have written erotic verse, but he received some, from Saint Alcuin of Tours. (He also had a relationship with Paulinus, as did Alcuin, in some kind of clerical threesome).  Bishop Marbod of Rennes (11th century) also wrote erotic verse to a boyfriend, but was not canonized. Other early bishops also had male lovers,  but because they are not remembered as saints, and have not left memorable erotic verse, we do not know their details.

We do know about the ordination of one openly gay bishop, John of Orleans,  in the eleventh century, at the instigation of his lover Ralph, the  Archbishop of Tours, because of the scandal it caused. This scandal was not because John was both gay and famously promiscuous, but because of his youth and Ralph’s obvious nepotism. How many other openly gay bishops were consecrated at that time without the same scandal, we just don’t know.

Clouding the issue of “gay” bishops is one of terminology, especially against a background of monastic celibacy. There are strong grounds for describing another recognised saint, Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury, as “gay”, even if celibate, on the basis of his writing and passionate love letters to his monastic “friends”.  He  should definitely be remembered as a protector of gays, for rejecting a decision by the London synod to impose harsh penalties for homosexual actions.

Then are the succession of gay popes: Julius II, Julius IIIPaul II, and possibly John XII (r. 955-964), Benedict IX (r. 1033-1045; 1047-1048), John XXII (r. 1316-34), Paul II (r. 1464-1471), Sixtus IV (r. 1471-1484), Alexander VI (r. 1492-1503), Julius II (r. 1503-1513) and Leo X (r. 1513-1521) (See Jesse’s Journal at Gay Today).

In the modern Catholic Church , there have been no openly gay bishops or popes, but there have certainly been many in the closet. There are credible claims that that Paul VI may have had his share of boyfriends, at least before becoming pope, and similar suggestions that the “Smiling Pope“, John Paul I, may have been gay. And on Wiki Answers, there is a claim that Pope Benedict himself is gay.

Then there are certainly hundreds of closeted gay bishops in the Catholic Church. The late Cardinal Spellman of New York was notorious in his day. Allegations have been made against Cardinal Wuerl of Washington and others who surround themselves with obviously gay fan clubs – while publicly attacking LGBT equality.

I accept that hard as it is to be openly gay as a Catholic priest, it will be obviously that much harder as a bishop. But I do wish journalists,  who undoubtedly have the required evidence, would be less reticent about outing those gay bishops who are publicly hostile. If it is too much to hope that we in the Catholic Church can expect any time soon to see bishops coming out publicly to join their Episcopal and Lutheran counterparts, perhaps the threat of involuntary outing could at least dampen their public hostility to civil rights advances.

See also:

Outing the Church: Gay Popes, Gay Bishops

And, for some historical notes on outing Anglican bishops in the UK, read Peter Tatchell on Media Mendacity