When Same-Sex Marriage Was a Christian Rite

Gwinna at anthropologist.livejournal.com writes: "Contrary to myth, Christianity's concept of marriage has not been set in stone since the days of Christ, but has constantly evolved as a concept and ritual. Prof. John Boswell, the late Chairman of Yale University’s history department, discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient Christian church liturgical documents, there were also ceremonies called the 'Office of Same-Sex Union' (10th and 11th century), and the 'Order for Uniting Two Men' (11th and 12th century)." (via @joshuahol)


  1. So what sect had these rights in the 10th and 11th century? I skimmed the article, but didn’t see it.

    1. It was the Catholic church….other than smaller sects in northern Africa and the Middle East, it was pretty much the only Christian game in town at the time.  Martin Luther came after.

      1.  There were several other churches back then, IIRC. For example the Greek Orthodox, and I think another one was the Byzantine Church. IIRC they had similar dogma, but who was the authority of the church was different. (in a nut shell)

        1. “Smaller sect” is an understatement to be sure. And “only game is town” is just false.  Just like European history gets all the play in school, so does the Catholic Church as the “only game in town.” Couldn’t be further from the truth. As Americans we mostly hear about European History and because of that, only hear about the Roman Catholic Church.  Years of seperation from the Orthodox and Oriental Churches (because of mountain ranges and occupations/conquests) have given us a scewed sense of what was Christian in the early days of the church.The early Apostles have one church to start.  The first split happens in 431- over something that is considered by most now to have been a language barrier.  This creates the Oriental Orthodox Church.  You know them as the Coptic Church (Egyptian), Armenian, Ethiopian, and Syriac.Next Split creates an Eastern and Western Church (Byzantine and Greek Orthodox are the same thing).  Catholic Church goes one way the Orthodox Church the other.  This split happens due to the Pope’s assertion that he’s in charge.  The Orthodox Church considers him first among equals (there were and are several Patriarchs in charge of different regions) and is not cool with his new found claim to being the boss. There is also some arguing over the filioque… The Orthodox are pissed because they think the Catholic Church in France is messing up the words.And then we all know about the Protestant revolution.  The difference with the Protestants is that unlike the previous splits they create new ideas and new churches.  They haven’t existed since the beginning.  The Oriental and Orthodox Churches don’t change their theology when they split with the Catholic Church (and if you asked them they would say that the Catholic Church split with them!).

          Anyway- that’s my summary of the history of denominations, haha.

          1. Essentially it is the question of the relation between ritual (the mass) and the word (written/spoken) which is at stake and the power to define them (and the ‘law’). As the trinity, transubstantiation and consubstantiation are fundamentally shamanic/animist concepts they must always come up against a wall of ideological incomprehension (and mystery) making constant schisms and divisions unavoidable.

          2. Gosh, it’s almost like there isn’t actually a god guiding the tiller of his representative on Earth. Wow.

  2. Ever-seeking to share enlightenment. This information must be taken with a grain of salt. There was also a time when it was a Christian rite to pay (as in with cash) for your sins to be absolved. Not to mention the whole let’s burn Christians at the stake for having a Bible in their home. These are lesser known facts about the history of the Christian “church” that are understood to be heresy.  But I’m sure it’s an appealing factoid to those with a particular agenda.

    1. These are lesser known facts about the history of the Christian “church” that are understood to be heresy.

      By the winners, of course.

    2.  “There was also a time when it was a Christian rite to pay (as in with cash) for your sins to be absolved.”
      Indulgences… they sort of wandered away from doing that as it made it look like you could just buy Gods forgiveness and maybe didn’t need to listen to them.

  3. I recently came across 1 Timothy chapter4 verses 1-5, which kind of blew me away.  Being a letter from Paul to Timothy who was setting up a Christian church, it is interesting because Paul writes, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”

    Seems like a pretty clear admonishment against telling people who they can and can’t marry coming from the creator of the Christian church.

    1. The flaw in this argument is that it suggests that whatever you do as long as you do it with thanksgiving it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. So if this is true, pedophilia is ok as long as they are married, polygamy is ok as long as they are married, beastiality is ok as long as they are married. But why stop there? If you murder and rape as long as you are thanking God for it, it’s all groovy. Logical fallacies are dangerous Frank. Best to avoid them.

      1. I find it rather disappointing to see polygamy in the same sentence as pedophilia and bestiality. While there are certainly problems with polygamy, there are also cases where it works and its completely fair. To lump it in with the practice of sexually abusing children is abhorrent.

        1. Didn’t you get the memo? Any social progress inevitably leads to someone fucking a turtle.

      2. Logical fallacies are dangerous Frank.

        In context of your comment, I would just like to say:


    2. Also: PETA.

      Any chance we can get the militant Vegans and militant Jebusists to go at each other and leave the rest of us alone? (Tolerant vegans and Jebusists welcome, of course.)

        1. They exist. The usually don’t feel the need to tell you they’re vegans until it’s somehow pertinent.

  4. I wonder if this is the right time to point out that Anglicans, the UCC, and others embrace same sex marriage. 

    1. I thought the Anglicans were dividing over this. But yes, many other branches of Christianity do, and some branches of the early church seem to have done so.

      1. I just can’t imagine an Anglican actually embracing anything. Maybe a dry handshake at arm’s length.

  5. keep in mind that if there were particular priests that approved of same-sex union, they would do everything they could to spin it as non-sexual, even if it was. Hell, the church downplayed the role of sex in heterosexual marriage.

    1. You should read “Damning the Innocent” – it’s about the Church prosecuting married men for impotence in France.  Men were sometimes required to physically demonstrate potency before a panel of celibate clergymen – I’m totally not kidding.

      1.  yeah, but that’s because it is a sin to not be able to make more Catholics.

        Wait, are we talking about a man being made to display an erection in front of a panel of “celibate” clergymen? Suuuuure they are…

        1. Thats not a unique catholic trait. E.g. it’s a serious stigma in judaism if you (as a jewish man) don’t marry a jewish women (or the other way round) ’cause then you don’t make more jewish children.

        2.  No, we’re talking about a cum shot with the man’s wife on a table in front of a whole committee of robed priests.  I am also totally not kidding.

            The Church “downplaying the role of sex in hetero marriage” is a relatively recent cultural thing, dressed up as Christianity, but not really a Christian thing at all.  Sort of like how Birkas are a cultural thing dressed up as Islam, and not really part of Islam at all.  As you’ve pointed out, the Vatican has often been very interested in  increasing the number of catholics born, and you can’t do that without sex.

          After the Turks won at Mohács I seem to remember the Pope giving Christian men permission to have multiple wives… to father more Christian soldiers.  Can’t find the reference, though.

  6. dammit, why is my reply to Frank going top-level post…

    I wanted to say: Paul apparently cautioned about the preaching of vegetarianism too with the “abstain from meats” part… so why no big uproar about vegetarians being evil?

    Sound more to me like a warning about cult leaders, as in along with veganism, you can’t marry or have sex (except with the cult leader)… next comes castration, drinking the Kool-Aid, and boarding the UFO.

    1.  I thought it was more removing the restrictions placed on the Jews, such as eating pork and IIRC they had to marry within their religion. I think they still do that today, as I know people who converted to Judaism for no other reason than to get married.

  7. Catholics are idol worshippers ruled by the kidfucking Satanists of the papacy, NOT Christians.

    That being said, Jesus explicitly nullifies the penalty for adultery in John 8 and that really applies to all perceived sexual misconduct. If Christ were alive today he’d be heading into JP Morgan/Congress/the Federal Reserve with a bullwhip (or perhaps a shotgun) to teach some moneychangers a lesson. Who sticks their genitals where would be the last thing on his list of priorities.

      1. Half of that chapter I just mentioned, John 8, was branded as anti-Semitic throughout the centuries. It is hard to tell the truth about a murderous people without offending somebody. Jesus was not the kind of guy to worry if what he was saying was hurting someone’s feelings. He was mean and wild.

        1. So what you’re saying is, “Christ, what an asshole” then? :)

          And how would your first sentence be interpreted by someone reading it, I mean, speaking of hate speech?

          It’s pretty awesome how it’s ok to spew against those it’s “popular” to hate now days. Heaven forbid (har har), I were to write, “Jews are Christ denying worshippers ruled by the moneyfucking capitolists of the market, NOT Christians.”

          How would that be interpreted?

    1. Ha ha ha. “That being said . . . ” Wait, I was supposed to keep reading after “Catholics are idol worshippers ruled by the kidfucking Satanists of the papacy” Mr. Manson?

    2. Again I have some bad news Andrew. Jesus is not nullifying the penalty for adultery but upholding it. The Jewish law required the punishment of both parties involved, but only the woman was brought forward. The law also required the one who is carrying out the punishment to be innocent of the sin they are condemning. That’s why the  Pharisees left. Christ did not condemn her to show her the grace he is known for, but he also commands her to go forth and sin no more which is a warning that she should not do what she is guilty of.

      1. I’m not going to argue scripture with a man who compared two loving homosexuals getting married to bestiality and pedophilia a single pageup above. You do not know Christ and you are a demagogue. I will simply pray for your salvation.

        1. This is awesome. “Kidfucking Satanist” and “you do not know Christ” in the same thread. You might know Christ, but do you think he’d admit to knowing you?

          1. I’m pretty sure Jesus would have harsh words for any organization that sheltered and encouraged paedophiles for a thousand years.

    3. If the papacy is satanic that makes God the good guy. I’m confused now ‘cos I’m finding gnosticism more and more attractive.

  8. Well, if it’s on LiveJournal, it must be true.

    Oh, wait, there’s a link to the original paper! Bonus!

    404 not found

    Ah, nevermind.

  9. Not to unduely pick on livejournal, but does anyone have a more authoritative citation?

  10. Christian Rite vs. Christian Right:  what a difference a few little letters make . . .

  11. 1. These manuscripts are obviously the work of the devil and he wrote them at the same time he was burying all the dinousaur bones.

    2. These rites are completely taken out of context. At the time, men and men would often cohabitate and this is just a legal document affirming their co habitation status – but totally #nohomo

    3. Lalalala I can’t hear you Jesus loves me lalala you’re going to hell lalalala

    1. No no, GOD put the dinosaur bones there. As a “test of faith”. Which I think is creationist slang for “God’s totally pranking us, guys. Just pretend it didn’t affect us and maybe he’ll think we’re cool.”

  12.  Just going to leave this here:
    “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and
    whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and
    whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
    -Matthew 16:19

  13. “Contrary to myth, Christianity’s concept of …

    The problem is Christians (or members of any other religious cult) aren’t very keen on anything that’s contrary to myth in the first place.

  14.  Considering homosexuality was considered a sin and therefore illegal, why wouldn’t these same sex unions be “clarified” to be “in spirit, not in nature”

    As in: Sure, we’ll marry you two guys just as long as you promise it’s for Jesus and you’re not doing the ol’ Adam and Steve, ok? *nudge nudge wink wink*

  15. I had to consult the Logical Fallacies poster because I detected multiple possible fallacies in your three sentences. (This may be some sort of record!)  I detect: (1) ad hominem; (2) black-or-white; (3) bandwagon; (4) appeal to authority; and (5) appeal to emotion.  Did I get them all or were there more gems packed in there that I missed? (edited to reflect 3 sentences, not 2)

  16. Sigh, fine I’ll click the link for you and help you see how Boswell blew it:

    In Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, Boswell based his claim that the Church was blessing “same-sex marriages” on the subjective reading of some 80 manuscripts that he found during 12 years of summer research in the libraries of Italy, France, England, and Greece. In fact, the adelphopoiesis ceremonies, from the Greek words adelphos [brother] and poiesis [making], cited in Boswell’s book [which are no longer in the Greek liturgy] were a part of the history of blessings in the Church. What Boswell came upon were probably so-called sealing ceremonies swearing loyal brotherhood between men and presided over by a priest of the Eastern Catholic or Schismatic rites.

    It is quite obvious to any reader of the texts that there is nothing either explicit or implicit regarding “same-sex marriages” connected with the blessings. By publishing translations of several heterosexual marriage ceremonies alongside the “same-sex blessings,” Boswell sought to highlight similarities. Even a casual reading of the texts reveals integral differences: the normal marriage ceremonies bless a physical union of a man and a woman, celebrating “the cause for which Matrimony was ordained . . . the procreation of children.” [3] However, each and everyone of the texts Boswell called “same-sex unions” stress a union where the participants are “not bound together by nature, but in the unity of the Holy Spirit,” or “joined together not by the bond of nature but by faith and in the mode of the spirit.” [4] These blessings of “spiritual brotherhood” were far from being the “same-sex unions” that Boswell termed them.

    (edited for formatting)

  17.  You know, I wrote a gigantic response to your assertions.  Unfortunately, when I posted it, I was cued to log in and the post evaporated.  Your link has been removed, presumably for the same reasons I disagree with it.

    The point of the article to which you cite–and your posts–was this:
    a. Boswell was gay
    b. Because Boswell was gay:
      i. his research and theories could NOT be true or accurate, and
      ii. he was academically dishonest and lied in order to advance a secret gay agenda
    c. the secret gay agenda threatens society
    d. Because the Catholic church now condemns gay marriage, it is impossible for it to have ever accepted it in the last 2,000+ years
    e. “Tolerance” of different perspectives, customs, and biology is evil and leads to the downfall of society, and
    f. Any historian who focuses on history of feminism, black people, poor people, or gay people, is a “historical revisionist”
    g. And, although the author of your cited article (Vashort or something like that) acknowledged Boswell’s numerous citations and historical support, she (who only cited 6 sources that weren’t Boswell) dismissed his scholarship summarily as biased agenda-pushing fodder.

    If my post can make it out of the ether, I will stand on it further.  In the end, however, I was simply pointing out how amazed I was that you encapsulated your cite’s ignorance, intolerance, and fear-mongering in three short sentences.  Be proud.

    Frankly, I’d like to debate this formally, in person.  If any happy mutant would be willing to serve as an even-handed moderator, please tell me when and where.

  18. It’s annoying that one secondary source spawned a bajillion tertiary sources and nobody is posting any peer review of this subject.

  19. Disqus eats comments in that fashion. It’s evil. Your best bet is to copy any comment that took more than a minute to write so that you can just paste it when the first one goes down Disqus’s gullet.

  20. [I found my post. I had to not be logged in (and potentially on the same computer) and it appeared as it was before logging in via Disqus. Now, ahem, as the original post and its link were removed for obvious reasons, I hope my recitation of that original post, sans link, may remain for purposes of rebutting that asshattery and filling out the argument set forth in my previous post. The quoted material in points (1) through (3), below, comprise the entirety of TRH’s original posts, sans link. My reply was as follows.]

    First, let’s look at your response:

    (1) “What a load of crap.” Initial translation: Boswell is wrong. Translation in context of rest of post and link: Boswell is a liar.

    (2) “Boswell was gay, and a convert to Catholicism.” Initial translation: “Boswell was a gay Catholic.” Translation in context of rest of post and link: “Boswell is a sinner and abomination in the eyes of the Catholic church, and can not be a true Catholic because a true Catholic–presumably not a convert–would not write a scholarly article in which (s)he finds historical support for a theory that is not popular.”

    (3) “No wonder he would engage in such revisionist ‘history’.” Only one translation: Because of Boswell’s presumed sexuality and religion, Boswell lied about his findings and theories in order to advance a secret gay agenda. Boswell was thus dishonest and unethical to a point where he would risk his academic reputation and livelihood in order to spread the lie that the Catholic church at times tolerated/condoned/approved/administered/officiated/recognized civil unions between two persons of the same sex.”

    Your initial argument focuses only on the man and not the theories he advanced in his paper.

    Next, let’s look at the response you co-opted.

    Instead of attacking the author, Ms. Horvat, based on her religion, sexuality, gender, height, etc., I’ll focus only on the article to which you cite. In it, Horvat first states that Boswell “blasphemes the saints with blatant assumptions and lies that falsely misrepresent what Holy Mother Church has always stood for in regards to the sin of sodomy.” Ooookay.

    Horvat, too, begins with an ad hominem attack on Boswell, saying that he blasphemes (which I believe the Catholic church condemns as a sin).

    She then states that it is Boswell’s “agenda [which] gives tolerance to the type of abherent behavior that is causing grave scandal today.” So, she offers a variation on the ‘slippery slope’ argument, in that Boswell’s article is the badge of an agenda that causes people to tolerate different peoples, and it is that tolerance that causes “grave scandal.” It appears as though Horvat is more concerned with the effect of the article rather than its scholarship.

    Horvat goes on to equate Boswell’s article with other “historical revisionism” such as *gasp* history [re-] written from a feminist perspective, histories which focus on black oppression, and histories which focus on the tension between “oppressed proletariats and the oppressive capitalists.” Such revisionist history Horvat claims cannot be true, but are lies perpetrated by those who seek to “exploit their interests.” This ‘black-or-white’ fallacy supposes that the only true version of history is that as it was believed before other scholars found posited new theories in light of new facts or opined on how events affected and were effected by peoples who were not previously the focus of research.

    Horvat finally gets to the (presumed) point of Boswell’s paper: “homosexuality was tolerated in the first centuries of Christianity and homosexual marriages were celebrated liturgically in the Middle Ages.” Okay. But, then Horvat warns that your children may be exposed to Boswell’s “scholarship.” Crikey!

    Horvat opines that it was Boswell’s primary intent to find “‘facts’ that could justify homosexuality as something normal and acceptable in order to further the gay rights agenda of our day.” Look, she just goes on and on about his agenda and not his scholarship.

    When Horvat finally gets to arguing the merits of Boswell’s position—which she should have done from the beginning—she has already lost much credibility. Horvath’s argument is based on the fallacy that because the teachings of the Catholic church are “gay is evil”, then the church could have never tolerated homosexual unions at various points in the last 2,000+ years.

    Horvat acknowledges Boswell used “meticulous footnotes and all the scholarly apparatus to gain credibility for his theories” (she herself cites to Boswell’s article in 8 out of 14 cites), but then dismisses the scholarship of the work by concluding “his scholarship was completely subjective and relativistic.” And then she really turns it on. Here are some choice bits:

    “In the name of tolerance, legislation is being introduced to permit homosexual marriages, symbolic of a cultural and spiritual transformation of the country, and an end of culture and civilization as we know it.”

    “As Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen pointed out in 1931, what the world is suffering from today is not intolerance, but tolerance: “tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos.”

    “Books like Boswell’s are just plain “bad” history, in every sense of the word. And the practice of bad history is even more dangerous than the practice of bad medicine, because its poison seeps into the very soul of Christian Civilization.”

    Look, Horvat’s argument is rife with fallacies. I was merely impressed that you managed to convey all of her bullshit into three short sentences. Nice going.

    [Edited for spelling and formatting]

  21. Oh, I can stop sodomizing any time I want . . . I just sodomize socially and sometimes after a particularly hard day at work and . . . I deserve to sodomize, damnit! I work hard and like to shoot a load off once in a while, couple times a day max and rarely on my lunch break but really, it’s all you people who have the problem NOT ME! 

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