12th January: St Aelred of Rievaulx, Patron of Same Sex Intimacy

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:

Collect

Pour into our hearts, 0 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 into your community of love; through Jesus Christ the Righteous, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


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Saints Polyeuct and Nearchos, 3rd Century Lovers and Martyrs.

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.

Saint Apollinaria, Cross-Dressing Monk and Saint

According to the LGBT Catholic Handbook, this week sees the feast day of St.  Apollinaria /Dorotheos of Egypt (5th, 6th January). She is said to have been one of a group of transvestite saints – women who took on men’s clothing  in order to live as monks.

For the specific story of Apollinaria, we turn to the Orthodox church, who take these female monks rather more serioulsy than the western church.  From the Orthodox website, “God is Wonderful in His Saints”

She was a maiden of high rank, the daughter of a magistrate named Anthimus in the city of Rome. Filled with love for Christ, she prevailed on her parents to allow her to travel on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem she dismissed most of her attendants, gave her jewels, fine clothes and money to the poor, and went on to Egypt accompanied only by two trusted servants. Near Alexandria she slipped away from them and fled to a forest, where she lived in ascesis for many years. She then made her way to Sketis, the famous desert monastic colony, and presented herself as a eunuch named Dorotheos. In this guise she was accepted as a monk.

Anthimus, having lost his elder daughter, was visited with another grief: his younger daughter was afflicted by a demon. He sent this daughter to Sketis, asking the holy fathers there to aid her by their prayers. They put her under the care of “Dorotheos”, who after days of constant prayer effected the complete cure of her (unknowing) sister. When the girl got back home it was discovered that she was pregnant, and Anthimus angrily ordered that the monk who had cared for her be sent to him. He was astonished to find that “Dorotheos” was his own daughter Apollinaria, whom he had abandoned hope of seeing again. After some days the holy woman returned to Sketis, still keeping her identity secret from her fellow-monks. Only at her death was her true story discovered.

The Handbook lists some scholarly references in support, while a look at some orthodox websites corroborates the story and confirms her feast on 5th January.  The Advent Catholic Encyclopedia. however,  dismisses the tale as ‘hagiographic fiction.’

Apollinaria’s story and motives are remote from our time, and ‘transvestite’ is not to be confused with ‘transgendered’. (UPDATE: After I first described this group of women as “transvestite”, I was taken to task by a reader, who pointed out that these days, “cross-dressing” is more appropriate terminology). Still, whatever the full historic truth of Apollinaria/ Dorotheos specifically, it seems to me this is a useful story to hold on to as a reminder of the important place of the transgendered, and differently gendered,  in our midst.

Many of us will remember how difficult and challenging was the process of recognising, and then confronting, our identities as lesbian or gay, particularly in the context of a hostile church. However difficult and challenging we may have found the process of honestly confronting  our sexual identities,  consider how much more challenging must  be the process of confronting and negotiating honestly a full gender identity crisis.

Let us acknowledge the courage of those who have done it, and pray for those who are preparing to do so.

Related articles

Cathedral Wedding for Senior Lesbian Clerics

When Massachusetts introduced same sex marriage in 2003, it as alone among American states. Since then, a steady trickle of others have followed, either with meaningful civil unions or with full marriage equality. More will follow this year, and is increasingly obvious, as VP Biden has observed, that full marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples is now “inevitable” across the country. It is now only a matter of time.  Although the opponents of same-sex marriage claim theirs is a principled stand based in religion, it is also becoming obvious that religious opposition too is crumbling. As with so much else that was previously prohibited on the pretext of religious belief, the religious objections to homoerotic relationships will in time be recognised as without religious validity for the modern world.

One recent Boston wedding was just one more among many – but it carries with it strong symbolic importance, and is an important signpost to a future without religious discrimination. Two lesbian Episcopalian clerics, each holding an office of some seniority and importance in their diocese, were married in the Cathedral Church of St Paul in Boston, in a wedding service solemnized by the Episcopalian bishop of Massachusetts, the Right Reverend M Thomas Shaw SSJE.  What could be more respectable than that?

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Queer Gods, Demigods and Their Priests: The Middle East

(For a proper understanding of the place of homeroticism in Jewish and Christian history, it is instructive to contrast it with its place in other religions. I have described previously how many religions not only accept a recognized and important place for same sex love, but even identify specific patrons of homosexual love. I now propose to consider the many other gods and goddesses who either took same sex lovers themselves, or were served by sexually or gender non-conforming priests  and priestesses. I begin, as any account of the development of civilization must do, in the Middle East.)

Same sex love is a common theme in world religion and its literature, and is even present at the very beginning of literary history. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the world’s oldest work of literature – and includes a central theme of love between two men. The hero Giligamesh was the king of Uruk, described as two thirds god and one third man, and a giant in size and strength, with a prodigious sexual appetite. He routinely used his strength and royal power to take advantage of both young men, taking them from their fathers, and young women, taking them from their husbands. To protect their sons and wives from the kings lust, the people turn to their gods, and in particular the creator goddess Aruru, pleading with her to send Gilgamesh a companion on whom he can expend his energies. Aruru responds, and sends to Gilgamesh a man, Enkidu, who is massive in size, inspiring in physique, hairy like an animal, and with luxuriant tresses of hair “like a woman”.

 

Gilgamesh's Grief at Enkidu's Death

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The Story of the “Queer Saints and Martyrs”: Taking Shape

Ever since I began writing for the Queer Church, one of the key themes I have been exploring has been that of the place of LGBT men and women in Christian history – recognized and unrecognised saints, martyrs for the church, some who have  been martyred by the church directly or indirectly, and those who have achieved remarkable high office in the church, as popes, bishops or abbots in spite of clear homoerotic interests and activities.

As I have explored individuals and notable groups, I have been seeing the outline of a narrative thread underlying them, which I have been using to draw them together into what I hope will become a book for publication. The outline for the book I have previously published, as a synopsis, and as a reflection of the feast of All (Gay) Saints. I have now expanded this synopsis one level, which I will be posting in instalments over the coming week, under six main divisions. For a preview of these posts and the work in progress, follow the links to my  “Queer Saints and Martyrs” pages here at Queering the Church, and from them to the detailed posts on individuals and groups at my satellite site, “Queer Saints and Martyrs – and others”.

 

The best -known queer saints: Roman Lovers & ;Martyrs, Sergius and Bacchus.

This the outline for “Queer Saints and Martyrs”:

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Heed the Message of Christ: Queering Galatians

As we continue to consider the person of Jesus Christ, we must think also of what he expects of us. Above all he sends us out into the world to carry his message. This is what is meant by “apostle” – one who is sent as a messenger. We are all (or should be) apostles, and the world we are to carry the message to is our own, contemporary world, with its modern conditions and circumstances.

It is in this spirit that  Rev Steven Parelli, executive director  of Other Sheep, has posted an adaptation and paraphrase of Paul’s letter to the Galatians., that he prepared in the immediate aftermath of the Equality March in Washington D. C. This is a text that he once memorized in an attempt to fight against his same-sex attraction – but reassessing it in personal, modern terms has given it a very different complexion:

When I was in my freshman year of Bible college, I memorized most of the book of Galatians by heart (and filled five notebooks with personal study notes) ….for the purpose of helping me to overcome my “temptation” to same-sex sex (which I now realise is not a temptation but an orientation).

Last night while on the bus that brought us home from the National Equality March in Washington,  D. C., I went over chapter 1 of Galatians in my mind as well as read it from the NT Bible I had with me. …….Once I queered the very first word “Paul” as “we who strive for the equality rights of LGBT people”, I was off and running. And then the text spoke to me, as many texts from the Bible have spoken to other oppressed peoples of former and present times.

Apostles for Today

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Christ’s Queer Family

This week, the Catholic Church celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family – so often an occasion of trial for those Catholics who are not living in officially approved families of Mom, Pop, kids, pets and picket fence. Subjected year after year to the same -old, same-old shallow sermons on the joys of family life, single people, the divorced, childless couples and queer Catholics can easily find that this Sunday is a very pointed reminder of how easily and thoughtlessly we can be excluded from the Church community. Most of the standard preaching on the Holy Family though is entirely misguided – the true nature of the Holy Family is very far from a celebration of the modern, but inappropriately named,  “traditional family” .

Not a

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The Incarnation and Celibacy: Reflection on a Reader’s Comment

One of the joys of blogging is that I sometimes get to learn so much from my readers. This response to my post on Jesus and the Beloved Disciple set me thinking:

One of the points traditional theology makes on the Incarnation is that what was not taken on by the human nature of Jesus was not redeemed. Hence the idea that Jesus experienced same sex attraction is essential for those who look to him as the source of salvation. Perhaps the Celtic View of Salvation would be more helpful here than the Augustinian One. Rather than concentrating on the woundedness of human nature by sin undone by the redemption the idea that Jesus is teaching us how to be truly human serves to give context to the meaning of what redemption is about. It is as if Jesus is teaching us a song that we once knew but have forgotten. Jesus is providing the courage to take up the melody again.

His is not only instruction but empowerment. Intellect and Will Together assemble a portrait of genuine human persons fully integrated in all aspects of the character and personality. Jesus makes us whole. The Spirit continues this Mission of the Son in our time renewing the face of the earth so that Eden is Intimacy with God, with Self and With Others: a Garden of Delight, Openness and Love.


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St John the Evangelist, the “Beloved Disciple”: December 27th

In the catalogue of “gay saints”, or pairs of supposedly “gay lovers” in Scripture, the coupling of John the Evangelist (the “beloved disciple”)  and Jesus himself is surely the most controversial. Many people, including some of my friends from the LGBT Soho Masses, find the whole idea that this may have been a “gay”, sexually active relationship, highly offensive. Others argue the opposite case.

In an explosive book, “the man jesus loved,  the reputable biblical scholar Theodore Jennings mounts an extended argument that Jesus himself was actually gay and that the beloved disciple of John’s Gospel was Jesus’ lover.  To support this provocative conclusion, Jennings examines not only the texts that relate to the beloved disciple but also the story of the centurion’s servant boy and the texts that show Jesus’ rather negative attitude toward the traditional family: not mother and brothers, but those who do the will of God, are family to Jesus.  Jennings suggests that Jesus relatives and disciples knew he was gay, and that, despite the efforts of the early Church to downplay this “dangerous memory” about Jesus, a lot of clues remains in the Gospels.  Piecing the clues together, Jennings suggests not only that Jesus was very open to homosexuality, but that he himself was probably in an intimate, and probably sexual, relationship with the beloved disciple.

Daniel Helminiak, Sex and the Sacred

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