Monthly Archives: October 2011

David Morley, Twice Martyred Gay Barman?

Saint Sebastian is unique among the recognized saints of the church for having been martyred not once, but twice. In the modern context, perhaps we can say the same of David “Sinders” Morley. Working and well-known as a gay barman, there is no doubt at all that Morley was openly gay. Living openly, he was bearing witness to the possibility of living honestly and openly as a gay man in London. In 1999, it almost cost him his life – and may have done five years later, in 2004.

On 30th April, 1999, Morley was on duty at the Admiral Duncan pub in London’s Old Compton Street when it was hit by a nail bomb attack, which killed three people and wounded about 70 others. Morley was injured, not killed, and ignoring his own burns, he set about helping others who were more seriously wounded as best he could.

Five years later, he was killed in a late night assault, which may have been prompted by homophobia, by a group of teenagers outside Waterloo station.
Religious leaders who rant about the supposed “evils” of same-sex love need to know that this is irresponsible. Such talk promotes hatred, hatred breeds violence.
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Ramon Navarro ( 1899 – 1968), Victim of the Catholic Closet.

Ramon Navarro was once the leading Latin actor in movies after the death of Rudolph Valentino, starring in several major silent films and early talkies, in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. He was killed on October 30th by two sex-workers he had hired from an agency,  in attempt to extort from him some of his perceived, but non-existent wealth. I see this tragic death as a sad symbol of the dangers of life in the closet, which had been forced on him by the twin pressures of his conflicts over sexuality and this Catholicism, and the constraints of the Hollywood publicists.
Those of us who are able to live out and proud in spite of the Vatican’s disordered sexual teaching, are able to form sound, healthy and adult relationships. Those who live in the closet are forced to live alone in solitude, or in sham marriages – such as the system of lavender marriages imposed by Hollywood on its sex-symbol gay and lesbian stars.
Some Catholics living alone will attempt to live a strictly celibate life in accordance with Catholic teaching – some may even succeed. Many others straddle an uneasy divide, between attempted celibacy, and sexual encounters in the closet. Especially for older men, sometimes the only feasible outlets are the seedier ones, in public toilets, or with commercial trade.  Both can be dangerous.
Ramon Navarro resisted the Hollywood pressure to enter a Hollywood marriage, and for a time was able to sustain a meaningful, but closeted relationship with his publicist, Herbert Howe, until the latter’s death in 1959.

Some years later, in October 1969, he hired two brothers, Paul and Tom Ferguson (aged 22 and 17, respectively), to come to his home for sex.  Mistakenly believing that there was a large sum of money in the house, the two then assaulted and tortured Navarro for some hours, hoping to force him to reveal the whereabouts of the cash. They eventually left with just $20. Navarro died of asphyxiation, having choked on his own blood.

It is probable that what most offends opponents of the “gay lifestyle” is its association in their minds with the kind of anonymous, impersonal sexual activities that take place in public toilets, backroom bars and in commercial transactions. What they fail to observe, is that these are less typical of gay men in open and publicly affirmed partnerships, than of those who remain closeted. 
 
The best way to reduce the seedier, and more dangerous, elements in gay lives, is to support marriage equality.




Raymond Navarro. Wikipedia
Film Actors, Gay Male, glbtq encyclopedia

 

Allen R Schindler Jr,. Naval Gay Martyr

Radioman Petty Officer Third Class in the United States Navy. On October 27, 1992, he was killed in a public toilet in Sasebo, Nagasaki, Japan by shipmate Terry M. Helvey, who acted with the aid of an accomplice, Charles Vins, in what Esquire called a “brutal murder”. Schindler was gay, and had previously complained to naval authorities of harassment, including death threats in comments such as “There’s a faggot on this ship and he should die”. Conscious of the dangers to his personal safety, he had begun separation process to leave the Navy, but his superiors insisted he remain on his ship until the process was finished.  The good military man that he was, he obeyed orders, and remained in the Navy, waiting to be discharged. Instead, he was murdered for being gay – a modern gay martyr, killed for not hiding his sexuality.
Prior to the attack, President Bill Clinton had promised to sign an executive order to permit gay service members to serve openly in the military – but did not keep his promise. Perhaps it was encouragement from this suggestion of a change in the military climate that encouraged him to complaint to his chain of command, but if so his action backfired badly. Instead of protection from dismissal, his commanding officer simply threatened him with a dishonourable discharge – and within days, news of the complaint, and with it confirmation that he was indeed gay, was public knowledge all over the ship.

On the day of the attack, Helvey and Vins had purchased (between just two people) two large bottles of whiskey, a bottle of schnapps, a bottle of vodka, orange juice and a six-pack of beer and went drinking in a park, where they saw Schindler, and followed him into a public restroom. In a completely unprovoked attack, Helvey assaulted Schindler with fists and feet, leaving him so badly mutilated that medical evidence described the body as similar in its wounds to those that might be sustained by being stomped on by a horse, or from a high speed car crash, or even in a low speed aircraft accident. The body was so badly mutilated, that Schindler’s family were unable to recognize him, except by tattoo marks on his arms.

During the trial Helvey denied that he killed Schindler because he was gay, stating, “I did not attack him because he was homosexual” but evidence presented by Navy investigator, Kennon F. Privette, from the interrogation of Helvey the day after the murder showed otherwise. “He said he hated homosexuals. He was disgusted by them,” Privette said. On killing Schindler, Privette quoted Helvey as saying: “I don’t regret it. I’d do it again. … He deserved it.”



After his death, the naval authorities that had failed to protect him, continued to behave shamefully, initially denying that they had received any complaints of harassment. They refused to speak publicly about the case or to release the Japanese murder report, and were “less than forthcoming” even to Schindler’s mother.

Truth however, will out. Helvey and Vins eventually faced a trial in open court. Helvey received a life sentence for murder, and Vins served a 78-day sentence before receiving a general discharge from the Navy in plea bargain to lesser offences, including failure to report a serious crime and to testify truthfully against Terry Helvey. The captain who kept the incident quiet was demoted and transferred to Florida.

The case was one of the impulses to the passing of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, which for all its manifest faults, was initially an attempt to provide some form of protection to gays and lesbians in the military (provided they “didn’t tell”.

(Also see Kittredge Cherry’s reflection at Jesus in Love, and a wonderful painting of The Murder of Allen Schindler by Matthew Wettlaufer)

 Sources:

Allen J Schnidler, Wikipedia,
Allen Schindler, in memoriam, at Auschwitz.dk
Allen R. Schindler, Jr.,Petty Officer Third Class, United States Navy at Matt and Andrej Koymasky’s Memorial Hall

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Allen R Schindler Jr., Naval Gay Martyr

Radioman Petty Officer Third Class in the United States Navy. On October 27, 1992, he was killed in a public toilet in Sasebo, Nagasaki, Japan by shipmate Terry M. Helvey, who acted with the aid of an accomplice, Charles Vins, in what Esquire called a “brutal murder”. Schindler was gay, and had previously complained to naval authorities of harassment, including death threats in comments such as “There’s a faggot on this ship and he should die”. Conscious of the dangers to his personal safety, he had begun separation process to leave the Navy, but his superiors insisted he remain on his ship until the process was finished.  The good military man that he was, he obeyed orders, and remained in the Navy, waiting to be discharged. Instead, he was murdered for being gay – a modern gay martyr, killed for not hiding his sexuality.

Prior to the attack, President Bill Clinton had promised to sign an executive order to permit gay service members to serve openly in the military – but did not keep his promise. Perhaps it was encouragement from this suggestion of a change in the military climate that encouraged him to complaint to his chain of command, but if so his action backfired badly. Instead of protection from dismissal, his commanding officer simply threatened him with a dishonourable discharge – and within days, news of the complaint, and with it confirmation that he was indeed gay, was public knowledge all over the ship.

On the day of the attack, Helvey and Vins had purchased (between just two people) two large bottles of whiskey, a bottle of schnapps, a bottle of vodka, orange juice and a six-pack of beer and went drinking in a park, where they saw Schindler, and followed him into a public restroom. In a completely unprovoked attack, Helvey assaulted Schindler with fists and feet, leaving him so badly mutilated that medical evidence described the body as similar in its wounds to those that might be sustained by being stomped on by a horse, or from a high speed car crash, or even in a low speed aircraft accident. The body was so badly mutilated, that Schindler’s family were unable to recognize him, except by tattoo marks on his arms.

During the trial Helvey denied that he killed Schindler because he was gay, stating, “I did not attack him because he was homosexual” but evidence presented by Navy investigator, Kennon F. Privette, from the interrogation of Helvey the day after the murder showed otherwise. “He said he hated homosexuals. He was disgusted by them,” Privette said. On killing Schindler, Privette quoted Helvey as saying: “I don’t regret it. I’d do it again. … He deserved it.”

After his death, the naval authorities that had failed to protect him, continued to behave shamefully, initially denying that they had received any complaints of harassment. They refused to speak publicly about the case or to release the Japanese murder report, and were “less than forthcoming” even to Schindler’s mother.

Truth however, will out. Helvey and Vins eventually faced a trial in open court. Helvey received a life sentence for murder, and Vins served a 78-day sentence before receiving a general discharge from the Navy in plea bargain to lesser offences, including failure to report a serious crime and to testify truthfully against Terry Helvey. The captain who kept the incident quiet was demoted and transferred to Florida.

The case was one of the impulses to the passing of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, which for all its manifest faults, was initially an attempt to provide some form of protection to gays and lesbians in the military (provided they “didn’t tell”.

(Also see Kittredge Cherry’s reflection at Jesus in Love, and a wonderful painting of The Murder of Allen Schindler by Matthew Wettlaufer)

Sources:

Allen J Schnidler, Wikipedia,
Allen Schindler, in memoriam, at Auschwitz.dk
Allen R. Schindler, Jr.,Petty Officer Third Class, United States Navy at Matt and Andrej Koymasky’s Memorial Hall

Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam

Erasmus, born on the 27th October 1466, was a Dutch humanist and theologian,  who merits serious consideration by queer people of faith.

Born Gerrit Gerritszoon, he became far better known as Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam: Erasmus was his saint’s name, after St. Erasmus of Formiae; Rotterdam, for the place of his birth (although he never lived there after the first few years of early childhood; and “Desiderius” a name he gave himself – “the one who is desired”.

Erasmus, a “gay icon”?

Some LGBT activists have hailed Erasmus as a gay icon from history. Circa Club for instance has no doubt, using that precise term and including Erasmus in it’s collection of historical gay icons. The primary basis of the claim is a series of passionate love letters he wrote to  a young monk Servatius Roger, and  allegations of improper advances made to the young Thomas Grey, later Marquis of Dorset, while employed Erasmus as his tutor.

Others are unconvinced, pointing out that the nature of friendship between men, and the form of expressions of affection between them, were very different in Erasmus’ day to ours. They also point out that there were never any direct allegations of physical relations with Grey, or with anyone else. This argument largely rests on the assumption that in a time of marked public opposition (and official persecution) of  “sodomy”, any suggestion of homosexual intercourse would have provoked strong denunciation and even prosecution. I am not convinced by either side.

Erasmus was certainly not “gay” in any modern sense. The use of the term “gay icon” for any man of the Renaissance period, and particularly for a priest, is clearly anachronistic, and inappropriate. It is also true that expressions of “love” in the letters to Servatius may be no more than expressions of Platonic affection, expressed a little more effusively (but not much more so) than was customary at the time. We cannot say for certain that he was sexually active with men.

But the absence of proof also does not disprove the hypothesis. As a priest, Erasmus was expected to be celibate. There is also no evidence of sexual relations with women, but that does not disprove that he was heterosexual. The claims that the strong climate of opposition to sodomy “would have” resulted in public exposure are also invalid. Over several centuries, thousands of “sodomites” were tried and executed – but the meaning of the term was vague and variable, including everything from “unnatural” (i,e, anal or oral) intercourse between husband and wife, to witchcraft and heresy, to treason. In post-Reformation England, it was even sometimes used interchangeably with “popery”, as Catholicism was also viewed as treason against the English monarchy. In fact, many of those convicted may have been the victims simply of malice and grossly unfair criminal procedures, and completely innocent of sexual non-conformity – and very many more who were indeed engaging in homosexual activities were left entirely unhindered.

The matter of Erasmus’ sexual activities is at best undecided – and also irrelevant. To focus on “did he or didn’t he” is to make the mistake of the homophobes, who are convinced that homoerotic relationships are all about genital sex. It is enough for me to note that whatever the physical relationship may or may not have been, there was a definite, powerful and emotionally intimate relationship between Erasmus and Serviatus.

I also like this quotation, from his “In praise of marriage”:

I have no patience with those who say that sexual excitement is shameful and that venereal stimuli have their origin not in nature, but in sin. Nothing is so far from the truth. As if marriage, whose function cannot be fulfilled without these incitements, did not rise above blame. In other living creatures, where do these incitements come from? From nature or from sin? From nature, of course. It must be borne in mind that in the appetites of the body there is very little difference between man and other living creatures. Finally, we defile by our imagination what of its own nature is fair and holy. If we were willing to evaluate things not according to the opinion of the crowd, but according to nature itself, how is it less repulsive to eat, chew, digest, evacuate, and sleep after the fashion of dumb animals, than to enjoy lawful and permitted carnal relations?

-In Praise of Marriage (1519), in Erasmus on Women (1996) Erika Rummel

Erasmus, the scholarly reformer.

It is not his sexuality that most impresses me, but his legacy as a scholar and church reformer. His career spanned the years leading up to, and after, Luther’s break with the Catholic Church that became the Protestant Reformation. Prior to the split, Erasmus had himself been fiercely critical of the Church, arguing forcefully for reform of the many and manifold abuses. He had close relationships with Luther and many other leading members of the Reformation movement, which his ideas strongly influenced. However, when the break came, he chose to remain formally inside the church structures, and not outside of it.

LGBT Christians are often attacked by others for remaining inside a religion which is seen as inimical to gay interests, and so to be siding with the enemy of gay liberation, but this is simplistic. Erasmus’ response to the reformers was that it was the abuses that needed to be destroyed, not the church itself – an argument that applies equally strongly to the situation today, in respect of sexuality. The restricted, misguided view of sexuality promoted by some claiming the authority of religion, is not inherent in the Christian religion, but has been imposed on it to promote a particular heterosexual agenda. It is this abuse that we must oppose, not Christianity.

In doing so, we should also learn from Erasmus’ methods. Among his criticisms of the Church was its heavy dependence on medieval scholastic theology, with its elaborate structure of speculative philosophy. Instead, he went back to the sources, to build his theology on a sounder structure of evidence. Recognizing the inadequacies of the Latin Vulgate bible, he devoted himself to the study of Greek, and eventually published a more reliable Latin translation (which came to replace the Vulgate, with a parallel Greek text), He also wrote a series of treatises on several of the church fathers.

Queer theologians today are doing something similar. Instead of sitting back meekly and accepting the received ideas on the Bible’s supposed condemnation of homosexuality, they have gone back to the roots of Biblical scholarship, closely studying the texts in the original Hebrew and Greek, and paying close attention to the full literary analysis and contextual considerations. They have demonstrated the weaknesses of the traditional interpretations, and have earned the concurrence of many heterosexual colleagues. This reassessment of the Biblical evidence has been one of the important factors in the present moves to greater LGBT inclusion in church, as pastors or in rites for recognizing same-sex unions. Other theologians have resisted the received opposition by ignoring scholastic monolith, and going back to the source of the Christian religion – Christ himself, as revealed in the Scriptures. Others again, emphasise the importance of a personal relationship with God, through prayer, in place of unthinking deference to the human authority of clerical oligarchs.

Erasmus, the man in the middle.

In the build-up to the Reformation, Erasmus aimed to avoid taking sides in the split. His thinking was a definite influence on the reformist cause,  and was later accused of having “laid the egg that hatched the Reformation”. His response was that he had hoped it would lay a different bird. He worked hard to retain good relationships with both sides and to keep the peace between them, but in the end, his reward was to be viewed with some suspicion and resentment by both sides. By Catholics, for having fostered the reformist thinking in the first place, and by Reformists for having deserted them at the end.

Queer people of faith will sympathise. We too aim to straddle two camps- and are frequently attacked from both sides: by some traditionalists Christians for our supposed sexual sin, and by secular gay activists for siding with the enemy,

May the example of Desiderius Erasmus sustain us in our endeavour.

Jerome Duquesnoy II , Burned October 24th, 1654

On 24th October, 1645, the sculptor Jerome Duquesnoy II was bound to a stake in the Grain Market in the center of Ghent, strangled and burnt. His crime (which he strenuously denied) was sodomy, with two boys, assistants who had been working with him on what should have been his masterpiece , the mausoleum of Antoine Triest, bishop of Ghent.
From a modern perspective, the issue here is that of child abuse, but that is not the way it would have been seen in the 17th century: similar activities with girls of the same age would have passed without comment. The issue then was same-gender sexual activity. The age of his partners was of minor importance – in many similar cases, the boys were also punished for their part in the “crime”. In common with thousands of other men between the fourteenth and early nineteenth centuries, he was executed for no other reason than the allegation that his sexual life was directed at his own sex.
Most of these men are known to us only by the sketchiest of details, but with Duquesnoy we know more than with most, thanks to his family background, and his own artistic legacy. His father, also Jerome Duquesnoy, was a notable sculptor, famed today for the statue “Mannekin pis”, so beloved of tourists in Brussels. Jerome II, and his brother François , were also sculptors, like their father.

François today has a definite place of his own in art history: his brother Jerome in all likelihood would have done so too. Like his brother, he served an apprenticeship in their father’s workshop, and studied alongside François in Rome, under some of the greatest sculptors of the age. Later, he attracted the attention and patronage of powerful figures, including the king of Spain, and the bishop of Ghent, before the accusations and subsequent execution abruptly ended his career.

His reputation as a sculptor was tarnished by the circumstances of his death. In common with the practice of the time, his name was removed from many of his works, and his career literally was forgotten, but he is now re-emerging from the artistic shadows as a result of work by dedicated twentieth-century scholars. :

Infant Hercules
struggling with a serpent

The execution of the Belgian sculptor Jérôme Duquesnoy the Younger (1602-1654) must have served as a warning to other artists about the consequences of any “improprieties” in their lifestyles or their works. Although his reputation is today eclipsed by that of his elder brother, François, Jérôme Duquesnoy was widely regarded as a prominent sculptor during his lifetime.

…..Duquesnoy’s exuberant and appealing statues of young boys, such as Hercules Fighting with Serpents (ca 1650), attest to his sexual proclivities, which led to his downfall. In the Pietà (ca 1640), he envisioned a beautiful young angel, passionately kissing the arm of a sensual Christ.

Richard B Mann, glbtq encycloedia

…… he produced such famous works asGanymede and the Eagle of Jupiter (ca 1540-1545) andChildren and the Young Faun (ca 1542-1547). Many of Duquesnoy’s works depict strong, muscled male figures in the Hellenic tradition, the polished bronze often seeming to mirror the sculptor’s innate fondness for the form he was creating.

For centuries after his death, Duquesnoy’s reputation was both tarnished and repressed, and it is only recently that his works have enjoyed critical attention. A sculptor of remarkable talent, Duquesnoy’s vigorous body of work finally serves to celebrate that talent rather than stand as a reminder of the sad end to a very promising career.

 Michael G. Cornelius, glbtq encycopedia

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Who are the "Queer Saints and Martyrs"?

I have been rather neglecting this site for a while, partly by circumstance, and partly for some reflection and reconsideration of its essential nature. When I first started learning about the "gay saints" of the Church, the matter of definition seemed fairly clear.As time has moved on, and I have learned and thought a little more, I have realised that this view is simplistic. One comment at the site, referring specifically to trans saints, is also more broadly relevant to the entire project.

No MTF saints can be found among those who actually got canonized — but we all know, you don't have to actually be canonized to be a saint. Surely there's got to be some MTF saints who *aren't* canonized! Problem is — not only such saints aren't canonized – but a MTF saint would probably have so little written about her, that it would be unlikely that we'd even know about her at all! So, maybe it's time that we start *investigating* the possibility? Coz let's face it — the Vatican aint going to do this investigation for us. Information may be scant – but at least we can start looking! 

So – it's time to start looking. Here is my current thinking, and the revised concept for the site.

Byzantine icon of "All Saints"

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"Alfredo’s Fire": The Self- Martyrdom of Alfredo Ormando

In January 1998 Alfredo Ormando, an Italian writer, set himself on fire in St Peter's Square in the heart of the Vatican. Ormando was Catholic, and gay.

In Catholic hagiography, the most famous image of a martyr burned at the stake is that of St Joan of Arc, condemned by the approved theologians of the Church as a heretic and martyred by the church, essentially for her transgression in dressing as a man. In the centuries that followed, thousands more were burnt as sodomites. These were viewed by the church as irredeemable sinners – but later history may come to view them differently. The church now views Joan as a canonized saint. Pope Benedict has explicitly acknowledged the clear lesson – official theologians may be wrong. In years to come, those burnt for sodomy may also come to be more widely recognized as collective martyrs – martyred by the church, for the nature of their love.  In his horrifying echo of the centuries – long great persecution of sexual minorities, Alfredo Ormando's suicide after years of attempting to stifle his sexuality in accordance with Vatican rules, may be seen as a unique act of self-martyrdom.

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Sergius & Bacchus, October 7th: Patron Saints of Gay Marriage?

Sergius and Bacchus are by a long way the best known of the so-called gay or lesbian saints – unless we include as “saints” the biblical pairs David and Jonathan, and Ruth and Naomi.  We need to be careful with terminology though: the word “gay” can be misleading, as it certainly cannot be applied with the same connotations as in modern usage, and technically, they are no longer recognised as saints by Western church, as decreed by the Vatican – but they are still honoured by the Orthodox churches, and by many others who choose to ignore the rulings of Vatican bureaucrats. The origins of saint-making lay in recognition by popular acclaim, not on decision by religious officials.
Whatever the quibbles we may have, they remain of great importance to modern queer Christians, both for their story of religious faith and personal devotion, and as potent symbols of how sexual minorities were accepted and welcomed in the earliest days of the Christian community.
They are particularly important in the movement to marriage equality, for their significance in early rites of blessing same-sex unions in church, which may point a way to making a modern provision for something similar without necessarily changing the traditional understanding of church marriage to that between a man and a woman – with its link to child-bearing.
(And, as I have written before, I have a very special personal connection with this pair of early saints and martyrs for the faith. Like so many queer Catholics, it never occurred to me that there could even exist gay or lesbian Catholics until I heard of SS Sergius and Bacchus. Some months after first hearing of them, I read their story in John Boswell, and wondered when was their feast day. I investigated – and found by wonderful serendipity that it was that very day. That began for me a continuing exploration of the other LGBT saints, of the rest of gay history in the churches, of more general gay and lesbian theology – and  this blog. By further serendipity, I discovered this week that today, the feast day of Sergius and Bacchus, is also the birthday of  – Dan Savage, well known for his work to combat homophobic teen bullying.  If Serge and Bacchus may be regarded as patrons saints of gay adults, is Dan Savage a modern patron saint of gay teens?).
An icon of Saints Sergius and Bacchus by moder...

The Lovers’ Story

Sergius and Bacchus were third /fourth century Roman soldiers, and lovers. This alone is worth noting in any discussion of homoerotic relationships and the early Christians: in the Roman world, as in most of the Mediterranean region, such relationships were commonplace. What mattered in questions of sexual ethics and social approval (or otherwise) had little to do with the gender of the partners, but with their respective social status.
They were of high social standing, good enough to have a close personal relationship with the emperor, Tertullian. This provoked jealousy. They were also Christians, which gave their enemies a useful pretext to denounce them to the Emperor. He ordered them to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods, which they refused to do. Their refusal provoked the wrath of the emperor, who began to exact a series of penalties, culminating in the sentence of death. The first to be killed was Bacchus, who was flogged to death. Serge was subjected to further torture, before being killed himself. The fifth century “Passion of Sergius and Bacchus” describes many details, and also some supposed miraculous interventions, such as the dead Bacchus appearing to Sergius in a vision, where he admonished his partner for grieving, and promised that they would soon be together again:
Why do you grieve and mourn, brother? If I have been taken away from you in body, I am still with you in the bond of union, chanting and reciting, “I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shall enlarge my heart”.  
Boswell makes two points about the trial and passion of Sergius and Bacchus that are especially relevant to their significance for queer Christians: in all the legal and theological arguments over the charges against them, the matter of their relationship was simply not an issue. The complaint was that they had refused to honour pagan gods. Their sexuality was of no consequence at all. Later, when the Greek hagiographer has the dead Bacchus appear to Sergius to comfort him with the prospect of paradise, the greatest joy of the promised afterlife is to be reunited with his male lover. Neither the Roman jurists, nor the fifth century Christian writer who recorded the passion, have anything at all to say against the relationship – and the Christian celebrates the quality and value of their love.

Sergius and Bacchus & Gay Marriage

It is simply historically untrue that marriage has always been between one man and one woman, or that same-sex marriage is a modern invention. Among many counter-examples that easily disprove that belief, is the tradition of liturgical blessings, in church, of same-sex unions as described by the ground-breaking historical work of John Boswell. While these were not in any way an exact counterpart to modern marriage (nor were heterosexual unions from the same period), they do no need to be considered carefully in modern responses in faith to the questions around marriage and family equality. Sergius and Bacchus are significant here, for being mentioned by name in many of the liturgies for these rites that have survived, along with numerous other, less familiar examples of same-sex couples from church history.

There are also surviving texts of ancient and medieval hymns to the couple. Boswell quotes one from the sixth century, which has the opening verse ,

Of Serge and Bacchus,
the pair
filled with grace
,

let us sing, O ye faithful!
Glory to Him who worketh
through his saints
amazing and wonderful deeds! 

The full hymn is too long to quote here in full, but one verse in particular emphasises the importance of their mutual devotion:

It was not desire for this world
that captivated Serge for Christ,
nor the empty life of worldly affairs
[that captivated] Bacchus;
rather, made one
as brethren
in the bond of love
they called out valiantly to the tyrant,
“See in two bodies
one soul and and heart,
one will and virtue.
Take those that yearn to please God.
Glory to Him who worketh
through his saints
amazing and wonderful deeds!

The words “made brethren” in this verse are a reference to the literal translation of the greek name for the rite, that of “making brothers”.  This has been taken by some commentators as disproving Boswell’s claim that these rites have any connection to marriage, and are instead simply a joining in spiritual brotherhood. (A claim that Boswell himself anticipated and countered in the text himself).

Whatever the original connotation of the words though, that there was some concept of marriage involved is clearly shown by another hymn from the ninth century, quoted and discussed at “Obscure Classics of Latin Literature“, on a page for Carolingian poetry.

Hymn of SS. Sergius and Bacchus

– spuriously attributed to Walahfrid Strabo (c. 808 – 849 CE)

I. O ye heavens, draw up the marriage contract as our voices resound with odes
And let us make manifest the gracious rewards of the Lord.
We who are below shall celebrate the saints with an illustrious hymn
From our very hearts.

II. Holy martyrs shining by virtue of your merits, Sergius and Bacchus,
As partners you wear God’s crown, you have transcended
Together the enclosure of the flesh; and now you are
Above the stars.

“O ye heavens, draw up the marriage contract” seems pretty explicit, to me.

Glory to Him who worketh
through his saints
amazing and wonderful deeds!



Indeed.

(At Jesus in Love, Kittredge Cherry has a fascinating post on depictions of Sergius and Bacchus in art, featuring in particular a wonderful stained glass window of the pair, at St. Martha’s Church in Morton Grove, Illinois. This was donated to the church by its LGBT parishioners, and is believed to be the only representation of them in any United States Church).

Books

Boisvert, Donald: Sanctity And Male Desire: A Gay Reading Of Saints (See all Catholic Saints Books)

Boswell, John: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe

Jordan, Mark: Authorizing Marriage?: Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions

O’Neill, Dennis: Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive People

O’Sullivan, Andrew: Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con: A Reader

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