Saturday, May 12, 2012

Bonds of Brothers

Making the rounds on social media lately has been the claim that ancient Christianity, far from opposing gay marriage, actually had a same-sex marriage ceremony within its liturgical inventory. The article presenting this claim is at Anthropologist at It's written in an engaging "everything you were ever told was a lie" style, describing the lives of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, and the early Church's proported permissive attitudes on such matters. 

The Church does not consider homosexual orientation, in and of itself, to be sinful. And while the Church would consider herself as having no authority to even consider sanctioning homosexual acts, the Church would equally condemn  mistreatment against individuals on the basis of their orientation. And the Church could perhaps do a better job of making all people feel welcome to participate in the life of the Church. 

That said, historical revisionism is not a helpful way to move forward. Readers of this recent article should be aware that the argument presented in it originates solely from a book published by John Boswell, entitled Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe. First off, Boswell is misinterpreting a liturgical rite in which two men could become "brothers," the ἀδελφοποίησις (adephopoiesis). The service existed in the Western Church as well, under the title Ordo ad fratres faciendum (Service for making brothers).

The most important piece of evidence Boswell presents is his claim that the oldest martyrology of Sergius and Bacchus refers to them as Ἐρασταί  (erastai), 'lovers'. This is the plural of erastes, which refers to the older man in a pederastic relationship. 

Here's the problem. Boswell's claim that the oldest martyrology of Sergius and Bacchus, if he wants to be taken seriously within scholarship, needs to include not just a citation, but a quote of the original Greek passage. Other scholars need to be able to assess whether Boswell's interpretation of the passage is accurate. And to assess it, they need to at least see it!

I became suspicious of Boswell's claim when multiple searches for the original source continually reference back to Boswell and nothing else.

And there's a reason no one, including Boswell, cites the specific original text and context. And it's because the word erastai is not there. You can go ahead and look for yourself, if you'd like. Start at page 373 of the Analecta Bollandiana (Indiana University Press), and you can access the original Greek text of the Passio Antiquior SS. Sergii et Bacchi (The More Ancient Passion of Saints Sergius and Bacchus).

Boswell ultimately does a disservice to people who would engage in a meaningful discussion on how the Church should minister to homosexuals.  By perpetuating a dishonest and inaccurate picture of the past, he only confuses the current discussion. Sadly, people forwarding his claims are believing them to be true without confirming the actual facts. 

A glance at the news certainly shows that this is an issue that the Church must be engaging. Without changing teaching she believes she receives from Jesus through the Apostles, the Church must also, with sensitivity, minister to people with a host of ways in which they don't always live up to the ideals of the Christian life. 

Pray for us, Saints Sergius and Bacchus, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. 

1 comment:

  1. The scholarly world is familiar with the expression (which would likely be misinterpreted by the general public) "a pious fraud".
    Boswell's fabrication is rather an *impious* fraud. Thank you, Dr Massey, for unmasking this one.
    For an example of a fraud neither pious nor (we hope) impious, but simply mischievous, google "a lost sonnet of saint augustine".