Rewriting History to Serve the Gay Agenda
Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D.
Book review of the work Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell
(New York: Random House Books, 1994), 412 pp.
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One of the most disturbing trends in academia today is the wholesale practice of historical revisionism, or what has been described as "advocacy scholarship," that is, scholarship in the service of a social and political agenda.
The cover pictures Saints Serge and Bacchus, famous Roman martyrs. Boswell blasphemously claimed that their relationship was homosexual.
What does all this academic gobbledygook mean? Basically, historical revisionism is the kind of history you get when no one any longer admits such thing as reality, principle, or truth. What we have is quite simply the "pleasure principle adopted by historians" (1), that is to say, history at the pleasure of the historians. Thus, there are now feminist histories, history re-written from a feminist perspective, or "black" histories, whose focus in every period is the oppression of blacks, or Marxist histories, which view every event as part of the inevitable clash between the oppressed proletariats and the oppressive capitalists. We can even get a "new" history like the recently released Constantine's Sword, which maintains that Christianity's primary aim since the death of Christ has been the oppression and persecution of Jews.
These absurds methods of "re-reading" History are not only being tolerated, but accepted and praised in mainstream academia. Since we have been supposedly "liberated" from the "coercive" idea of truth and reality, why shouldn't feminists, homosexuals, and every kind of revisionist with an agenda seize the moment to exploit their interests?
That is exactly what John Boswell did. The past chairman of Yale's history department was gay and a convert to Catholicism. He resided in New Haven with his long-time companion, and died not too long ago (1994) at age 42 of an AIDS-related illness. Now, in "history according to Boswell," homosexuality was tolerated in the first centuries of Christianity and homosexual marriages were celebrated liturgically in the Middle Ages.
If you have a child enrolled in a Medieval History class at a university, you might check out the reading list - there is a good chance he will be exposed to Boswell's "scholarship." His 1980 book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality has become the standard reference for those who want the Church to reverse its traditional teaching against homosexual unions and activities. This book, which Boswell admitted was written to prove there was acceptance of homosexuality in the Western Catholic tradition from the beginning of the Christian era until the 14th century, won the American Book Award for History in 1981.
His 1994 book, Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, raised the question of whether certain Greek or Byzantine Church medieval rituals that Boswell terms "same-sex marriages" were ecclesiastical blessings of homosexual unions. Despite Boswell's claim to an objective interpretation of the facts, his views and scholastic labors were obviously shaped by his personal lifestyle and convictions.
Boswell goes so far as to identify the relationship of Our Lord and St. John as homosexual
"What Boswell is trying to do is change the Catholic Church. I think that was his whole purpose," said Dr. Vern. L. Bullough, a professor emeritus of History at Buffalo Sate University of New York (2). I agree with Dr. Bullough. The interest of Boswell was first and foremost to find "facts" that could justify homosexuality as something normal and acceptable in order to further the gay rights agenda of our day.
In Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern 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 the which Matrimony was ordained .... the procreation of children"(3). However, each and every one 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.
Of course, for Boswell, interpretation of the texts can turn on the meaning of few words. Here is one of the texts from the ceremonies, translated from 11th-century Greek: "That these Thy servants (names) be sanctified with thy spiritual benediction, we beseech Thee, O Lord. That their love abide without offense or scandal all the days of their lives, we beseech Thee, O Lord. That they be granted all things needed for salvation and godly enjoyment of life everlasting, we beseech Thee, O Lord." This liturgical ceremony, like all the others, specifically states that the blessing extends to a union whose love should be "without offense or scandal." Boswell, however, didn't like the translation "scandal," and replaced it with "envy"(5). In another example of history at the service of the historian, Boswell changed the translation of one Greek term inside a blessing text from "chaste love" to "discretion," obviously to deviate from any implication that chastity was an integral factor in monastic and temporal friendships.
In all his revised interpretations, Boswell unfairly keeps silent about the fact that according to the early and medieval Church, homosexual activity was scandalous and considered an abomination. For example, St. Augustine called sodomy and similar vices "sins against nature, which are abominable and deserve punishment whenever and wherever they are committed." Speaking about the sin of sodomy, St. John Crysosthom said "there is nothing, absolutely nothing, more mad or damaging than this perversity." St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas condemned homosexual acts as obscene, addictive and against nature (6). A ceremony of blessing would hardly sanction - in a subliminal contextual reading - what Popes and Saints forthrightly condemned.
If we view the documents within the context of the time (rather than our own), the obvious question rises: Why would the Byzantine church be blessing homosexual marriages at a time when Church laws imposed two to three years' penance for homosexual activity? Both Byzantine and Roman civil law treated it as a crime to be punished by torture, castration, or even the death penalty. (The death penalty was punishment for homosexual behavior in late imperial Roman law.) Later Canon Law codes mitigated this to mutilation; it also excused boys age twelve and younger from guilt, although boys who had been sexually abused were ineligible for the priesthood or deaconate (7). The idea that these liturgical blessing ceremonies proves that the Church has sanctioned, legalized, and even idealized homosexual union in the early and medieval Christian Western world falls flat in face of the legal evidence alone.
Boswell also revealed his complete misunderstanding of the underlying spirit of the Age of Faith, which was marked by a tonus of sacrality and spirituality that penetrated all the customs, institutions, laws, as well as relations of civil society. His interpretation of Christian friendship was based on a complete and blasphemous distortion of "the religion of the teacher who described friendship as the highest love (8)." Boswell went so far as to suggest that the imagery describing the "most controversial same-sex couple," the "Beloved Apostle" John and Jesus Christ, "was intimate, if not erotic (9)." He also implied absurd libidinous relationships between Ss. Peter and Paul, Ss Perpetua and Felicitas, and Ss. Serge and Bacchus (two Roman soldiers and popular martyrs of the early Eastern Church.)
In the case of St. Serge and Bacchus, Boswell chose to ignore the document's emphasis on the fact that the two soldiers "were joined not in the way of nature but in the manner of faith." Instead, he tried to prove an erotic relationship based on the psalm associated with the pair, who were always singing, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity (Ps. 133:1)." He also based his claims for an illicit relationship on "the long and hallowed relationship to democracy and military valor" that homosexuality played in the pagan Greek and Roman armies (10). For him, the only "honest methodology" is to assume and seek the "erotic or romantic component" of any same-sex friendship or brotherhood.
According to Catholic doctrine, all men are brothers by nature, but they become brothers in Christ through the Faith, by means of Baptism, which opens the doors of divine grace to the soul. This gave fraternity a supernatural dimension in the early Christian era and throughout the Middle Ages. Within this framework, close friendship, especially between males, remained a high ideal imbued with supernatural principles. A true friend was defined by St. Gregory the Great as custos animi, (a guardian of the soul, that is to say, one who takes care of the soul of his brother) (11). Thus, a major component in Christian friendship is for each party to assume a responsibility for the other's spiritual well-being and ultimate salvation. The close bond of spiritual brotherhood as developed in Catholic tradition, and particularly its monastic history, is either disregarded or ridiculed by Boswell.
Finally, Boswell argued that in its first millennium, devout adherents of the Christian religion did not expect marriage to satisfy emotional or sexual needs (12). Such needs, Boswell implied, were met much more satisfactorily in homosexual or extramarital relations. Yet this notion that there was no love inside marriage has been totally discredited. David Herlihy, a Harvard professor who was a specialist on the family in the Middle Ages, has noted that contemporary attitudes toward the family as a moral unity based on love and affection have ancient and medieval origins (13). According to St. Augustine, Amicitia, or friendship, in marriage was present from creation. As early as the third century, Origen of Alexandria affirmed love as a universal human experience that must be governed hierarchically by reason: one loved God first, and then one's parents, spouse, children, and domestics (14)." Love played much more than an "ambivalent role" in marriages, contrary to Boswell's arguments, which falsely aim at showing that many early Christian and medieval men only found satisfactory emotional and physical love outside of marriage in extramarital homosexual relationships.
The author utilized meticulous footnotes and all the scholarly apparatus to gain credibility for his theories. However, his scholarship was completely subjective and relativist. He felt free to create a new vision of the past according to his own judgment of the present.
Like bogus Marxist, feminist and black histories, "homosexual" histories such as Boswell's are intent on "politics," and these scholastic works have become instruments in the struggle for influence and right of citizenship. What they are intent upon toppling, however, is the whole code of ethics and morality of Christian Civilization.
The veritable media blitz today in favor of homosexuality is an attempt to wear down all opposition, all barriers of healthy horror and rejection to what Boswell derisively terms "the unmentionable sin." 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" Today's philosophical nonchalance, which has been interpreted as broadmindedness, has ended on the multicultural battleground, where the facts of the past are at the mercy of any cultural or intellectual movement that distorts History in order to reinterpret it. Boswell's work represents the victory of tolerance as understood by Msgr. Fulton Sheen.
Any objective medieval historian cannot be oblivious to the serious flaws in Boswell's work. But because of the "politically correct" tyranny of the gay rights movement on campuses, the Yale professor's work is barely challenged.
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.
1. Gertrude Himmelfarb, On Looking Into the Abyss, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), p. 133.
2. "Did Medieval Gays Marry," AP, reported on Prodigy.
3. Boswell, Same-Sex Unions, p. 323.
4. Ibid., pp. 291-5.
5. Ibid., p. 319.
6. In the Appendix of In the Murky Waters of Vatican II, Atila Sinke Guimarães provides documentation for these and other condemnations of numerous Saints and Pope with regard to homosexual acts. (Metairie, LA,: MAETA, 1997) pp. 353-365.
7. Ibid., 353-368
8. Boswell, Same-Sex Unions, p. x.
9. Ibid., p. 138.
10. Ibid., p. 61.
11. Brian Patrick McGuire, Friendship and Community, (Cistercian Pub., 1988).
12. Boswell, Same-Sex Unions, pp. 108-61.
13. David Herlihy, "Family," in American Historical Review, 96, No. 1 (Feb. 1991), pp 1-16.
14. Ibid., pp. 1-3.
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