Let Us Remember, for October 27th:

Erasmus of RotterdamRenaissance humanist, Catholic priest, and theologian who tried to bridge the gap between Catholic and Reformation impulses – and who is also known for 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 he employed Erasmus as his tutor.

Allen R Schindler Jr. (1969 – 1992 ) US

Naval Petty Officer, murdered in hate crime killing – a modern gay martyr, who was killed for not hiding his sexuality during the era of DADT in the US military.

Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466 – 1536), Netherlands. 

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”.

Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, b. Oct 27th 1466

Erasmus, a “gay icon”?

Read more:

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Allen R Schindler Jr. (1969 – 1992 ) US

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.

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Let Us Remember, for October 24th:

All those executed or murdered for their sexuality, or driven to suicide as a result of a perceived conflict between their inmost being and Christian faith, including

Jerome Duquesnoy II , Burned October 24th, 1654

A notable Belgian sculptor, bound to a stake in the Grain Market in the center of Ghent, strangled and burnt on allegations of sodomy (which he strenuously denied) .

and

Bryan Michael Egnew ( 1970 – 2011) US

Mormon, who paid the price for honesty when he acknowledged his orientation. He served an LDS mission, studied at BYU, married and had children in accordance with Mormon teaching. But after coming out to his wife, she left him, taking the children with her, and outed him to the church authorities, resulting in excommunication. He then committed suicide at his home on September 10, 2011.

 

Carlyle D. Marsden (1921-1976) Mormon Suicide

b. December 9, 1921

d. March 8, 1976

Carlyle Davenport Marsden was born on December 9, 1921, in Parowan, Utah. He was the son of William and Della Jane Marsden. He was survived by his widow, three sons and two daughters, 10 grandchildren, two brothers and four sisters.

He had been a music teacher at Eisenhower Junior High School in the Granite School District in Salt Lake, and also taught at Brigham Young University.

He was a veteran of World War II, serving in the Army in the Pacific Theater.

He attended the College of Southern Utah in Cedar City for two years, and received his bachelor degree from Brigham Young University and his masters degree from the University of Utah. He also did graduate work at Claremont College, Occidental and Cal State in Los Angeles, California.

He had filled an LDS Mission in the New England States and had been a member of the bishopric and high council in Pomona, Calif. He had been music regional representative, stake and ward organist, and stake choir director. He had also been Sunday School superintendent in Salt Lake City.

Carlyle was outed in March 1976. This led him to take his own life on March 8, 1976. He was 54 years old.

Carlyle is buried at the Kaysville City Cemetery in Utah.

Carlyle’s grandson Douglas Stewart was a gay Mormon and sadly committed suicide on March 8, 2006, exactly 30 years to the day his grandfather committed suicide.

Affirmation Suicide Memorial

About “Queer Saints and Martyrs”

At my primary blog, “Queering the Church”, and at my blogger site, “Queer Saints and Martyrs (and Others)“. one of the strands I have been exploring for some years now has been the place of LGBT/queer people in Christian history.

However, I have been dissatisfied with the blogger technology(and the way I set it up originally), and am in the process of transferring the entire site here, to the WordPress platform. Continue reading About “Queer Saints and Martyrs”

Théodore Beza, Calvinist Theologian and Church Reformer (June 24, 1519 – October 13, 1605)

If Théodore Beza had been Catholic, and honoured as a saint, the October 13th would be regarded as his “die natale”, or day of new birth in heaven. He was not Catholic, but a Calvinist pillar of the Reformation, and so definitely not a recognized Catholic saint. He is honoured by Calvinists for his reformist theology, and deserves to be remembered by modern gay and lesbian Catholics as one of us: he had  a male lover, Audebert, at a time when the Swiss Calvinists of Geneva were burning sodomites as enthusiastically as the Inquisition had done earlier in Spain and Italy.

Théodore De Bèsze, born at Vezelay (8 miles west-south-west of Avallon), in Burgundy, settled at Geneva, where he worked with Calvin, and succeeded him in 1564, as head of the reformed church at Geneva, a post he resigned in 1600. He wrote in defence of the burning of Servetus (1554), translated the New Testament into Latin, and presented in 1581 a 5th century Graeco-Latin manuscript of the Gospels and the Acts, the Codex Bezae, to Cambridge university.

His lover was Audebert. He published a collection of Latin poems, a book of amorous verse, Juvenilia (1548), which made him famous, and he was everywhere considered one of the best Latin poets of his time. In a poem in this collection, De sua in Candidam et Audebertum benevolentia he tells he is uncertain if to hug his friend Audebert or his friend Candida… and he concludes he embraces both of them, even though he prefers Audebert.

Hildegard of Bingen, Doctor of the Church

With the news that Hildegard of Bingen is one of the two people that Benedict has just named as doctors of the church, I repost below a portion of my earlier post on her:

Hildegard’s name is one to be reckoned with. Although today we usually use the term “Renaissance Man” to indicate one with a wide range of learning to his credit, perhaps we should also recognize in a similar way some extraordinary medieval women -such as Hildegard, and others who entered convents and applied themselves with distinction to learning over many fields.

Even in some distinguished company, Hildegard stands out. Her music is highly regarded, as are her literary output and her mystical writings – which of course is what makes her particularly honoured inside the church. To round out her skills, she was also recognized as a notable poet, artist, healer and scientist.  What makes her of particular interest at this site, is that she also had an intense attachment to a fellow nun, Richardis, who may have inspired some of her finest writing.

I have known a little (very little) about Hildegard for some time, and have come across suggestions of her possible lesbianism, but have not had enough knowledge to write about her myself. I was delighted then to find that my colleague Kittredge Cherry has done some digging, and produced a wonderful extended post on this great woman.

 We need to be careful though not to confuse this undoubted emotional attachment with a sexual relationship. The medieval church sanctioned and publicly approved many particular friendships between monks, and between nuns. These were not necessarily sexual. Although some undoubtedly were, others equally certainly were fully celibate. Indeed, there is much of value to reflect on in this connection, of relevance to modern gay men and lesbians.

Kittredge Cherry, in the the post I took as my starting point, stated that “Some say she was a lesbian because of her strong emotional attachment to women”. Sexuality, and its expression as emotional or sexual attachments, are two distinct issues. In modern terms, it is perfectly possible to be both gay and celibate (as a notable proportion of Catholic priests are), just as it is possible to be heterosexual in orientation, but celibate.

There is a problem here in the use of the word “lesbian”, a word, like “gay”, which perhaps has inappropriate connotations when applied to earlier historical periods. However, what Kittredge has drawn attention to, and that I see as important, is the undeniable evidence of a powerful emotional (not sexual) attachment to women – and to one in particular.

With her newly elevated status, which draws attention to the enormous but neglected contributions of so many influential women, we also need to take another look at her specifically religious contribution. Sadly, I am unable to do this today – but will return to it later.

The Gospels’ Queer Values

 

Jesus & Family
                            Jesus & Family                              (Stained glass Image, Tiffany Glass Company)

The opponents of gay same-sex marriage and of the “gay lifestyle” (whatever that is), like to claim that their opposition is rooted in traditional family values, “as found in the Bible.”   This claim is so completely spurious, is is remarkable how seldom it is challenged.  Just a little thought and reflection shows not only how the Gospel values have little to d with modern Western conceptions of the “traditional” family, but they are so far removed from it, that the real values espoused can certainly be described as “queer”,if not quite as specifically gay.   Continue reading The Gospels’ Queer Values

Queer Francis of Assisi: Breaking Boundaries

At Jesus in Love, Kittredge Cherry has uncovered more ground-breaking work on opening up the previously hidden history of queer elements in the lives of the saints – in this case, Francis of Assisi, whose feast day was yesterday, October 4th. The evidence she has quoted, comes from an unpublished master’s thesis “Gender Liminality in the Franciscan Sources” by the Franciscan scholar, Kevin Elphick.

St. Francis of Assisi (circa 1182-1220)

Reference to “queer” elements in the story and example of Francis are not intended as equivalent to the modern term “gay”, which would be completely anachronisitic, or to imply any specific sexual activity. We must always remember that although some writers use “queer” loosely as a synonym for gay and lesbian, or for the acronym LGBT, in fact it’s application in queer studies, and in queer theology, is much broader. Correctly used, the term does not refer to any specific sexual orientation or gender identity, but to a complete rejection of arbitrary definitions for sexuality or gender. In this sense, it is about breaking down boundaries – including boundaries outside of sex and gender, such as ethnicity, race or class.

So it is, that the Gospel message of radical inclusion and equality for all, is intrinsically a very queer one indeed. The theologian Robert Goss, who is identified by Elisabeth Stuart as initiating the transition from gay and lesbian theology to queer theology, rooted his thinking firmly in Christology, as indicated by the titles of two of his books, “Jesus Acted Up“, and “Queering Christ“.  St Francis of Assisi is renowned for his passionate commitment to embracing this Gospel message of breaking down boundaries, and an embrace of a materially simple life in imitation of Christ’s own. To see him as “queer” in this broadest sense, follows naturally.

The queer identity of both Francis and Christ, his model, is neatly illustrated in an image posted by Kittredge, of Francis embracing a Jesus with AIDS, on the cross. I quote here Kittredge’s description of Francis, and of the image:

Francis was born to a wealthy Italian family in 1181 or 1182. As a young man he renounced his wealth, even stripping off his clothes, and devoted himself to a life of poverty in the service of Christ. He connected with nature, calling all animals “brother” and “sister” and celebrating them in his famous Canticle of the Sun.

He saw the face of Christ in lepers, the most reviled outcasts of his time, and nursed them with compassion. William Hart McNichols puts Francis’ ministry into a contemporary context by showing him embracing a gay Jesus with AIDS in “St. Francis ‘Neath the Bitter Tree,” pictured here. Words on the cross proclaim that Christ is an “AIDS leper” as well as a “drug user” and “homosexual,” outcast groups at high risk for getting AIDS. The two men gaze intently at each other with unspeakable love as Francis hugs the wounded Christ. It was commissioned in 1991 by a New Jersey doctor who worked with AIDS patients, and is discussed in the book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More by Kittredge Cherry.

“St. Francis ‘Neath the Bitter Tree”
By William Hart McNichols © fatherbill.org

Kittredge’s post goes further, noting that Elphick’s thesis shows how some aspects of Francis’ life were “queer” even in a narrower sense, breaking down gender boundaries in particular, applying female terms to men, and male terms to some women admitted as brothers in the male community (a reminder here, of the  earlier biologically female saints who lived as men, in male monasteries).

Other Franciscan friars referred to Francis as “Mother” during his lifetime. He also liked to be greeted as “Lady Poverty.” He encouraged his friars to live as mothers with children when in hermitage together, and used other gender-bending metaphors to describe the spiritual life.

Francis allowed a widow to enter the male-only cloister, naming her “Brother Jacoba.” (Details about Jacoba are at the end of this article.) His partner in ministry was a woman, Clare of Assisi, and he cut her hair in a man’s tonsured style when she joined his male-only religious order.

Jesus in Love

There is also evidence of an emotionally intense relationship with another man, described in the earliest known biography of Francis, by one of the saints own followers, who knew him personally:Francis allowed a widow to enter the male-only cloister, naming her “Brother Jacoba.” (Details about Jacoba are at the end of this article.) His partner in ministry was a woman, Clare of Assisi, and he cut her hair in a man’s tonsured style when she joined his male-only religious order.

 “Now there was a man in the city of Assisi whom Francis loved more than any other, and since they were of the same age and their constant association and ties of affection emboldened Francis to share his secret with him, he would often take this friend off to secluded spots where they could discuss private matters and tell him that he had chanced upon a great and precious treasure. His friend was delighted and, intrigued by what he had heard, he gladly accompanied Francis wherever he asked. There was a cave near Assisi where the two friends often went to talk about this treasure.”

Thomas of Celano, quoted at Jesus in Love

Elphick is careful to describe this relationship  as “homoaffectional”, and not as “gay”:

“The relationship is inescapably homoaffectional, describing a shared intimacy between two Medieval men. That this first companion disappears from the later tradition is cause for suspicion and further inquiry…. The tone in Celano’s earliest account captures the flavor and intimacy of this relationship, perhaps too much so for an increasingly homophobic church and society.”

Kevin Elphick, quoted at Jesus in Love

SS Benedicta, (6 May) and Galla (5 October), Roman nuns – and lovers?

One of the curiosities of the Catholic tradition of honouring our saints and martyrs, is how hagiography seamlessly combines historical biography, myth with collective amnesia. The stories of Saints Patrick and Brigid of Ireland, for instance, are replete with well-known legends that have absolutely no verifiable foundation in historical fact, and the delightful story of St Wilgefortis (aka Uncumber), the crucified bearded woman, turns out to have a much more plausible basis in reality. For many other saints, the distortions of hagiography are not just the accretions that are added by popular imagination, but the important details that are so often omitted in the transmission down the ages. St Paulinus, for instance, is widely honoured for his missionary work and for the impressive quality of his Latin devotional poetry. The standard Catholic sources on the saints, however, discreetly omit any reference to his other poetic legacy – equally fine homoerotic verse addressed to his boyfriend, Ausonius.

The story of Saints Galla and Benedicta of Rome may be another example of this selective memory.  

 

Neither of these is particularly well-known, and Benedicta is even less-so than Galla, but I start with her. There are references to her scattered across the internet, but they all seem to come down to a few lines similar to these, from Catholic Online:

Mystic and nun. Benedicta lived in a convent founded by St. Galla in Rome. Pope St. Gregory the Great states that St. Peter appeared in a vision to warn her of her approaching death.

This seems innocuous enough, until it is set against the parallel warning of imminent death that St Gregory also gave to the better known St Galla.

From a large selection of on-line sources, Wikipedia sums up the key uncontested points of her story, those widely reported elsewhere:

Galla was the daughter of Roman patrician Symmachus the Younger, who was appointed consul in 485. Galla was also the sister-in-law of Boethius. Her father, Symmachus the Younger, was condemned to death, unjustly, by Theodoric in 525. Galla was then married but was soon widowed, just over a year after marriage. It was believed that she grew a beard, to avoid further offers of marriage. Being wealthy, she decided to retreat to theVatican Hill, and found a hospital and a convent, near St. Peter’s Basilica. Galla is reputed to have once healed a deaf and mute girl, by blessing some water, and giving it to the girl to drink. Galla remained there for the rest of her life, tending to the sick and poor, before dying in 550, of breast cancer. 

 Notice, please, that little sentence tucked away in the middle, and its cautious qualifier: “it was  believed that she grew a beard, to avoid further offers of marriage.” This strategy of a holy woman, to grow a beard to avoid marriage, is precisely that adopted by Wilgefortis. Her legend appears to have a much more mundane explanation. I have no knowledge of any firm evidence to either corroborate, or to contradict, Galla’s legendary beard. What interests me is the rest of Galla’s story, and its treatment in hagiography.

An article at Catholic Culture is a good example. It seizes on the beard, and uses it as a moral fable, encouraging us to “dare to be different”.  Catholic Culture, however, claims that the beard story was only a threat, and the beard never did grow.

A story about St. Galla of Rome, illustrating the importance to not follow the crowd, but to be oneself. Legend says that St. Galla, after becoming a widow, grew a beard to avoid any offers of remarriage.

Not only girls who want to be nuns, but girls who just want to be good have to ignore a marvelous lot of nonsense from those who “follow the pack.” Life will pass you by, they say, and you won’t have any fun if you don’t do as we do! About as fast as St. Galla grew her beard, it will!

 So, then dare to be different – the cause of following holiness. But there’s one little detail also included in the  same article, which they do not comment on – a detail that has been omitted from all the other accounts I have seen about Galla. These all tell how, as reported by St Gregory, St Peter appeared to Galla in her final illness to predict the date of her imminent death. The other reports omit the crucial detail that the deaths of Galla and Benedicta were directly linked – at Galla’s express request to Peter:

One night she saw St. Peter standing before her between two candlesticks and she asked him if her sins were forgiven her. St. Peter nodded and said, “Come, follow me.” But Galla asked if her dear friend Benedicta might come too. Yes, she might, said St. Peter, after thirty days — and that is precisely what happened. St. Galla and another holy woman departed this life for heaven three days later, and Benedicta thirty days after them.

 As Censor Librorum at  Nihil Obstat noted in her reflection on Galla last December, a woman who first grows or threatens to grow a beard to avoid marriage, and then implores Saint Peter to allow her female beloved to accompany her into heaven, is not displaying a conventional heterosexual orientation.

I have no hesitation in hesitation in adding Saints Galla and Benedicta to my collection of queer saints and lovers.

Henri Nouwen, on Andrew Sullivan and the “Blessing” of Homosexuality

Andrew Sullivan’s new book, Virtually Normal: An Argument about homosexuality, is on of the most intelligent and convincing pleas for complete social acceptability I have ever read.

Andrew Sullivan is a Catholic. He is just as open about being a Catholic as he is about being a homosexual. From his writing it becomes clear that he is not only a Catholic but also a deeply committed Catholic who takes his church’s teaching quite seriously. That makes his discussion of the church’s attitude toward homosexuality very compelling.

My own thoughts and emotions around this subject are very conflicted. Years of Catholic education and seminary training have caused me to internalize the Catholic Church’s position. Still, my emotional development and my friendships with many homosexual people, as well as the recent literature on the subject, have raised many questions for me. There is a huge gap between my internalized homophobia and my increasing conviction that homosexuality is not a curse but a blessing for our society. Andrew Sullivan is starting to help me to bridge this gap.

– Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey, p27

(emphasis added)

 

Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest and celebrated writer on spirituality, who struggled throughout his life with the conflict between his priestly vow of celibacy, and his human desire for a “particular friendship”, and his deep attraction to one particular member of his spiritual community, which he described in his book,  “The Inner Voice of Love”. The writer and theologian Chris Glaser has described how Nouwen had wanted to come out in that book, and disclose that the person to whom he was so attracted was a man – but was persuaded that doing so would limit the readership and label him as a “gay” writer, and so he instead kept the gender of this person undisclosed.

His biographer, Michael Ford (“Wounded Prophet”), told me that Nouwen wanted to come out with that book but had been persuaded its message would reach a broader audience if the gender of the friend were not revealed. Nouwen had mentioned to me his concern that his reach would be narrowed if he were defined by this one aspect of his character.

Shortly after his death in 1996, I was shocked to receive an e-mail from someone quoting “the gay theologian” Henri Nouwen — a verification of Henri’s concern.

-Glaser, Huffington Post

Glaser himself had the opposite experience, when early in his career he achieved transitory fame (or notoriety) as an openly gay candidate for ministry in the Presbyterian church, at a time when openly LGBT candidates were barred by church rules from ordination. As a result, he became labelled ever after as a “gay” theologian. (James Alison, another theologian, is careful to describe himself as a Catholic theologian writing “from a gay perspective”, but not as a gay theologian).

There are then, reasons to be careful about labelling Nouwen as a “gay saint”. He has not been formally recognized by the Vatican for canonization, but there is a case that he could be recognized as a saint by popular acclamation, based on the popularity and high regard for his spiritual writing. A more serious concern lies with the epithet “gay”. He was certainly celibate, and so any implication of sexual activity must be firmly rejected. Unlike Chris Glaser and James Alison, he also does not write from any explicitly gay perspective, or even acknowledge his own sexuality. (In the extract from Sabbatical Year quoted above, he refers to his “friends” who are homosexual, but not to his own sexuality).

But if he never acknowledged it publicly, he did so privately, as is now well known, and it does in fact directly influence much of his writing and spiritual insights:

He was indeed The Wounded Healer that he wrote of early in his career: those able to bring healing to others while acknowledging personal wounds. Nouwen’s spiritual breakthrough came when he drew too close to a member of his spiritual community, prompting intense self-scrutiny that led to his published journal, “The Inner Voice of Love,” in which he comes to the realization that people will try to hook you in your wounds, and “dismiss what God, through you, is saying to them.”

-Glaser, Huffington Post

September 21st was the anniversary of Nouwens death – what in Catholic hagiography is described as his “dies natale“, or day of birth into new life. Let us remember him not as in any way a “gay saint”, but as a notable and inspirational writer on spirituality, a candidate for sainthood by popular recognition, who is loved for the healing power of his writing. Who was, nevertheless, clearly of a homoerotic orientation.

“We become neighbours when we are willing to cross the road for one another. There is so much separation and segregation: between black people and white people, between gay people and straight people, between young people and old people, between sick people and healthy people, between prisoners and free people, between Jews and Gentiles, Muslims and Christians, Protestants and Catholics, Greek Catholics and Latin Catholics. There is a lot of road crossing to do. We are all very busy in our own circles. We have our own people to go to and our own affairs to take care of. But if we could cross the street once in a while and pay attention to what is happening on the other side, we might become neighbours.”

– Henri Nouwen

(quoted at   Prodigal Kiwi)

Video:

Sue Mosteller talks about Henri Nouwen on Salt and Light’s Witness Program

(With grateful thanks to Kittredge Cherry, who alerted me to his anniversary, and to the useful link to Chris Glaser’s reflection. Kittredge has her own post on Henri Nouwen at Jesus in Love blog).

Books:

Ford, Michael: Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J.M. Nouwen

Nouwen, Henri J. M: