This coinciding of Church reform and homosexual tolerance is important: Classical writers observed that in Greece, those cities where male love was most common, were also those with “good laws”. (A superficial look at the modern countries and US states which have approved gay marriage or civil unions certainly matches my perception of those with “good”, i.e. democratic, laws. Does the same principle apply to the Christian church?) Because it is important, let me spell out the evidence.The abuses of the papacy and bishops before the Reformation are well known. However, there are specific periods that stand in stark contrast to these. The period I am looking at here, the opening of the second millenium, is described by Eamonn Duffy in his history of the papacy, as the great “age of reform”, featuring among many notable reformers, the reign of Gregory the Great.
Now note also, that this same period is seen, from the prism of modern teaching, as a key point in the development of anti-gay theology. In “The Invention of Sodomy” Mark D Jordan shows how Saint Peter Damian’s hostility to homoerotic relationships is central to modern homophobic theology. Now, here’s the fascinating thing: the clear homophobia expressed by Peter Damian, central to modern approved thinking, is the one part of Damian’s proposals that was REJECTED by the popes and other churchmen of his time. Although the official line at the time was that same sex relationships were sinful, this was not taken very seriously. Instead, the evidence from actual practice, was that such relationships were at worst tolerated, at best celebrated. Let’s look at some “for instances”.
From literature, we have the example of bishops and other clergy writing verse with frankly homoerotic themes: Marbod of Rennes, Baudri of Bourgueil,and Hildebert of Lavardin wrote poems which, while superficially orthodox, also treat frankly homoerotic themes with remarkable frankness and authenticity. All three of these later were consecrated bishops. (Much earlier, two other bishops had written homoerotic verse, which may be read today in the Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse. St Paulinus of Nola wrote erotic love poems to his male lover, while St Vergilius Fortunatus wrote verse with a clearly homoerotic flavour.) Alcuin of Tours also wrote gay love letters, such as one to Arno the bishop at Salzburg:
Love has penetrated my heart with its flame,
And is ever rekindled with new warmth.
Neither sea nor land, hills nor forest, nor even the Alps
Can stand in its way or hinder it
From always licking at your inmost parts, good father…
(Read the full letter, and also one by Marbod of Rennes, at Gay Love Letters through the centuries: Medieval clerics)
Another notoriously (and promiscuously) gay bishop was John of Orleans, whose lovers included two archbishops of Tours, and the French king. Yet when widespread opposition to his consecration was presented to the Pope, it was not on the basis of his orientation or promiscuity, but on the grounds of his youth. Even so, the objections were ignored, and the consecration of an openly and promiscuously gay bishop went ahead.
John Boswell: Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality
Eamonn Duffy: Saints & Sinners