Tag Archives: gay saints

(American Lesbian) Pauli Murray bound for sainthood

The late Rev. Pauli Murray, a woman of many accomplishments – civil rights activist, feminist, author, lawyer and the first female African American Episcopal priest – will likely be named in the next few days to The Episcopal Church’s book, “Holy Women, Holy Men.”

Her nomination is up for a vote at the Anglican denomination’s general convention, meeting in Indianapolis through Thursday.

If it passes, Murray will have her own date on the Church calendar, July 1. Later this month, St. Titus’ Episcopal Church, where Murray worshipped, will hold its annual service in celebration of her work. She was born in 1910 and died in 1985. Murray’s impact goes beyond just her racial and gender barrier breaking in the church.

“Pauli Murray’s significance to The Episcopal Church is as a pioneer, as an advocate for racial reconciliation, an agent for social justice, racial and gender equality both in the church and society,” said Rev. Brooks Graebner, rector of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Hillsborough and member of the steering committee of the Pauli Murray Project based at Duke.

“I would consider her a woman who in many ways anticipated major movements in the life of church and society,” Graebner said.

After being turned away from UNC Chapel Hill’s graduate school in 1938, Murray participated in civil rights protests in the early 1940s and graduated first in her class and the only woman from Howard Law School in 1944. In 1965, she was the first African American to receive a J.S.D. from Yale. A year later, she was a founding member of the National Organization for Women.

Among her law and other publications is the memoir “Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family,” regarded as her seminal work. In it, she talks about growing up multi-racial in Durham’s West End. She became a priest in 1977.

The Episcopal Church’s book of saints, “Holy Women, Holy Men,” is a major revision of “Lesser Feasts and Fasts,” a worship book that included biographies of those commemorated on the church calendar. In 2009, the last time The Episcopal Church General Convention was held, more than 100 women and men were named to the new book in trial usage. Murray is among a handful to be considered at this year’s convention.

Read more: The Herald-Sun 

(What is not stated in the Herald-Sun, but is clearly stated on Wikipedia, is that “She was a lesbian”).

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Combatting Bigotry, a Cause For Sainthood: Brooklyn Dioncese

At a special church service on Thursday night, Bishop Nicholas A. Di Marzio of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn opened what is known as a “canonical inquiry” into the cause of sainthood for a Brooklyn priest, Msgr. Bernard J. Quinn.

New York Times

The basis of the cause is Msgr Quinn’s proud record of fighting against bigotry,  inside the church as well as outside.

Monsignor Quinn, who died in 1940 at age 52, championed racial equality at a time when discrimination against blacks was ubiquitous in America, even inside the Catholic Church. In the Depression-era heyday of the anti-Semitic, pro-Fascist radio broadcasts of the Rev. Charles E. Coughlin, Monsignor Quinn encountered sharp resistance from some fellow priests when he proposed ministering to Brooklyn’s growing population of blacks, many of them fleeing the Jim Crow South or migrating from the poor Caribbean countries.

When Msgr. John L. Belford, an outspokenly antiblack priest in New York, wrote in 1929 in his church newsletter that “negroes should be excluded from this Roman Catholic church if they become numerous,” Monsignor Quinn took pains during the public controversy that followed to state his strong disagreement.

The bigotry that Msgr Quinn fought against was racial, not sexual – but the principle is the same. Racial discrimination was once commonplace, and was widely “justified” by spurious references from Scripture. Today, overt displays of racial prejudice are taboo, and many Churches like to cast themselves as models of racial justice.   Why can the church not see that the injustice of discrimination in Church is every bit as distasteful when applied to sexual minorities, as to racial groups?

This will change, is already changing. In years to come, we could easily see a repeat of something very like the above announcement, requiring changes to only the name and a very few words:

At a special church service on Thursday night, Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn opened what is known as a “canonical inquiry” into the cause of sainthood for a … priest/sister, Fr John McNeill / Jeannine Gramick/………….(insert your nominee).

Fr John McNeill / Jeannine Gramick/………….(insert your nominee)n championed sexual equality at a time when discrimination against sexual minorities was ubiquitous in America, even inside the Catholic Church. In the  heyday of the heteronormative, homophobic campaigns against marriage equality waged by so many bishops and prominent lay Catholics, Fr John McNeill / Jeannine Gramick/………….(insert your nominee) encountered sharp resistance from some fellow priests when he proposed ministering to the growing population of openly gay and lesbian Catholics, many of them fleeing homophobic violence  or migrating from countries same sex relationships could meet prosecution, or even the death penalty.

Will it happen? not necessarily in those exact words, but in principle, I am sure it will. When will it happen? only time will tell.

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St Paulinus of Nola: Bishop, Poet, Saint – and Gay.

Although some would dispute the description of Paulinus as ‘gay’, the description seems to me entirely appropriate to his sensibility. Although history records no evidence of physical expression of his same sex attraction, nor is there any evidence against it.  Given the historical context he was living in (4th/5th century Roman empire), when sex with either gender was commonplace for men at at all levels of society, inside and outside the Christian church, the absence of written records of private activities after 15 centuries is completely unremarkable.  Nor is the fact that he was married particularly significant – for Romans, marriage and sex with men were entirely compatible.

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Alcuin of Tours

Alcuin was an Englishman who, after a period as monk and teacher at the great cathedral of York, served at the court of Charlemagne, whom he had met while returning from a visit to Rome. The Emperor recruited him to his court specifically because he recognised in him the potential to achieve a renaissance of learning and church reform. Note that the widely reproduced picture of him above, as well as another extant painting, shows him presenting books of learning.
We usually think of the “renaissance”, as a rediscovery of classical thought, as dating from several centuries later, but in many respects he was an early precursor.

He kept copies of important works by the great Latin writers, and also explored many different fields of learning: in addition to theology, literature and poetry, he is also remembered for some notable mathematical problems he formulated, and which are still known today as popular diversions, such as an early version of the problem with transporting a wolf, a goat and a cabbage across a river. However, he was not known so much as an original thinker, but as a superb scholar, teacher and guide.
I warm to this image of Alcuin, as the kind of person I would like to be: one who collects and shares knowledge from a range of sources, digging into the past while looking for reform – and blending literature, theology and mathematics. (My degree is in mathematics, but I also have a deep love for books  of all kinds, and worked for several years as a school librarian.)
The  case for Alcuin’s inclusion in a collection of  queer saints does not rest on any known sexual adventures (he was after all a monk, and sworn to celibacy), but rather for the quantity of passionate letters he wrote to some (very) close clerical friends and pupils, and for some notable poetry. Alcuin is the third early saint and cleric that I know of whose poetry is represented in the Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse. (The others are Saints Paulinus of Nola, andVenantius Fortunatus.)
One of his poems which is widely quoted in this regard is about a departed cuckoo. At first reading, there is nothing particularly “gay” about this. The key, however, lies in understanding the background.  This was written to one close pupil and friend about the recent departure of another – who is represented as the cuckoo. So this poem is in fact a description one man makes to a close male friend about the sense of loss and pain felt at the loss of another, mutual, friend. (“Daphnis” in line 20 is the pet name Alcuin used for the friend he is addressing in the poem. The departed friend, he referred to as “Dodo”.)

 

“Lament for a Cuckoo”
O cuckoo that sang to us and art fled,
Where’er thou wanderest, on whatever shore
Thou lingerest now, all men bewail thee dead,
They say our cuckoo will return no more.
Ah, let him come again, he must not die,
Let him return with the returning spring,
And waken all the songs he used to sing.
but will he come again? I know not, I.
I fear the dark sea breaks above his head,
Caught in the whirlpool, dead beneath the waves,
Sorrow for me, if that ill god of wine
Hath drowned him deep where young things find their graves.
But if he lives yet, surely he will come,
Back to the kindly nest, from fierce crows.
Cuckoo, what took you from the nesting place?
But will he come again? That no man knows.
If your love sings, cuckoo, then come again,
Come again, come again, quick, pray you come.
Cuckoo, delay not, hasten thee home again,
Daphnis who loveth thee longs for his own.
Now spring is here again, wake from thy sleeping.
Alcuin the old man thinks long for thee.
Through the green meadows go the oxen grazing;
Only the cuckoo is not. Where is her?
Wail for the cuckoo, every where bewail him,
Joyous he left us: shall he grieving come?
let him come grieving, if he will but come again,
Yea, we shall weep with him, moan for his moan.
Unless a rock begat thee, thou wilt weep with us.
How canst thou not, thyself remembering?
Shall not the father weep the son he lost him,
Brother for brother still be sorrowing?
Once were we three, with but one heart among us.
Scare are we two, now that the third is fled.
Fled is he, fled is he, but the grief remaineth;
Bitter the weeping, for so dear a head.
Send a song after him, send a song of sorrow,
Songs bring the cuckoo home, or so they tell
Yet be thou happy, wheresoe’er thou wanderest
Sometimes remember us, Love, fare you well.
[trans. Helen Waddell, in Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse]

Calendar of LGBT Saints

BBC/Ancient History

The Gay Love Letters of Medieval Clerics

And the ever valuable

John Boswell: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality

 

 

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Anselm of Canterbury: Gay Bishop, Gay Protector. 21/04

Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 – 1109, is important for the evidence he represents that the hostility of some Christians to homoerotic relationships has not always been typical of the institutional church. He has two claims in particular to attention from modern gay and lesbian Catholics. First, he is one of a band of notable medieval clerics who although personally celibate, exhibited a clear homoerotic sensibility, whose affectionate letters to his band of intimate male friends contribute to what John Boswell has described as a “medieval flowering” of a gay subculture, which was not again equalled until the latter part of the twentieth century.    He reminds us also, that just as there was then a homoerotic culture  deeply embedded in the catholic clergy, exactly the same applies today, as Mark Jordan has clearly shown (“The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism “).
St Anselm

Read some of these letters in Boswell, or read then on-line at Rictor Norton’s Best Beloved brother, extracts from his book: My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters Through the Centuries.  

However, he is also important as an early protector of gay men from the rising tide of intolerance that came to dominate the later medieval and renaissance periods, intolerance that persevered today, and is widely mistaken for something which is somehow inherent to the Christian faith.  

From the Calendar of LGBT Saints: (April 21):

The Council of London in 1102 wanted to enact ecclesiastical legislation which declared – for the first time in English history – that homosexual behaviour was a sin, and they recommended that offending laymen be imprisoned and clergymen be anathematized.
But Anselm as Archbishop of Canterbury prohibited the publication of their decree, advising the Council that homosexuality was widespread and few men were embarrassed by it or had even been aware it was a serious matter; he felt that although sodomites should not be admitted to the priesthood, confessors should take into account mitigating factors such as age and marital status before prescribing penance, and he advised counselling rather than punishment.



See Also:


The Medieval Flowering of Homoerotic Christianity
The Homoerotic Catholic Church


Books:


Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century


Jordan,Mark D: The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism
Norton, Rictor: My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters Through the Centuries.  

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The (Gay) Roman Centurion and his “Boy”

In Catholic tradition, March 15th is the feast day of “Longinus”,  the name given to the Roman centurion at the crucifixion who pierced Christ’s side with his spear.  Some writers, like Paul Halsall of the LGBT Catholic Handbook, also identify him with the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his “beloved boy”, who was ill. It is this second person that I am interested in here.  In this persona, he is one of my personal favourites, as his story shows clearly how the Lord himself is completely not hostile to a clearly gay relationship, and also because we hear a clear reminder of this every time we attend Mass – if only we have ears to hear.
It may be that you do not recall any Gospel stories about a gay centurion and his male lover, but that is because cautious or prudish translators have softened the words of the text, and because the word “gay” is not really appropriate for the historical context. You are more likely to know as the story as the familiar one of the Roman centurion and his “servant” – But this is a poor translation. Matthew uses the word “doulos“, which means slave, not a mere servant.  Luke uses quite a different word, “pais“, which can mean servant boy – but more usually has the sense of a man’s younger male lover – or “boyfriend”.Whichever of the two words or their senses was intended by the authors, the conclusions we should draw are the same. If “pais”  was intended here to indicate a lover, the conclusion is obvious.  If the intended meaning was either “slave ” or “servant” – the conclusion does not significantly change. To see this, let us consider the cultural context. For three centuries before Christ, the Jews had been under foreign military occupation, first by the Greeks (which is why demotic Greek had become lingua franca across the region, and was the language of the New Testament), then by Romans. These military overlords were about as well liked as any other military invaders anywhere – which is not at all.  The Jews hated them – but will have been quite familiar with Greek and Roman cultural (and sexual) practices.
First, consider the sense as “slave“. It is important to know that as a soldier on foreign service,, the centurion will not have been married: Roman soldiers on active service were not permitted to marry.  It is also important to know that for Romans, the crucial distinctions in sexuality were not about male or female, or about homosexuality or heterosexuality, but between higher or lower status.   Roman men would have expected to make sexual use of their slaves, especially if as here they were unmarried.  Far from home, this is likely to have been a sexual relationship, which could easily have developed also as an emotional one. And if the sense was not “slave“, but the softer “servant“, much the same conclusion follows. Roman citizens expected to take their sexual satisfaction from anyone of lower status  under their control – including the “freedmen”, or former slaves who had been released. In the words of the well known Roman aphorism,
For a Roman citizen, to give sexual service is a disgrace; to a freedman, a duty; and to a slave, an obligation“.
So, if we are talking here about a male lover, a sexual relationship is obvious.  If it is a servant boy or a slave, it is entirely probable.  But even if this is purely an arrangement about domestic service,  the conclusion does not change:   All those present and hearing the Centurion’s request would have been familiar with Roman sexual practice. For the Jewish bystanders, as for Jesus himself, there will have been an assumption that a homoerotic sexual relationship was at least possible, even probable. But this did not in any way affect Jesus’s willingness to go tot he centurion’s house – even though this in itself would have horrified traditional Jews.
The lessons we draw from this story are two-fold:  one, that Christ was not one bit disturbed by this approach from a man for help in having his (probable) male lover healed, but instead was immediately ready to go to the couple’s home.  (This of course, is entirely consistent with the rest of the Gospels. It is totally characteristic of Christ that he should be happy to talk, eat or drink with anybody, including those that were shunned or resented by mainstream Jewish society.) All those who argue that we are not welcome in God’s house have completely misunderstood Scripture – as He would be completely comfortable in ours.
The second lesson is the standard one usually drawn from the story, of the importance of trust in God.   The Centurion after putting his request makes it clear that it is not necessary for Jesus to actually go to his home, for all he needs is God’s word, and his servant will be healed.  Faith in Jesus in God is enough to achieve healing. This is especially important to us as gay men, lesbians or other sexual minorities. Whatever the hostility we may experience at the hands of a hostile church, we know that God will not reject us.  Further, in turning to Him in our pain of rejection, we know we can find healing.

Where is the echo in the Mass?

Right at the key moment, immediately before the Communion:

“Lord, I am  not worthy to receive you.  Say but the word, and my soul shall be healed.”

This is an obvious echo of the words of the centurion, when Jesus was about to set off for his home:

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.  just say the word, and my boy will be healed.”

Also see:

Jack Clark Robinson:  Jesus, the Centurion, and his Lover

Bible Abuse : The Centurion

Would Jesus Discriminate?:  Jesus Affirmed a Gay Couple

LGBT Catholic Handbook: Calendar of LGBT Sainsts

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St. Sebastian, Martyr, 20/01

Writing about St Joan of Arc recently I observed that she carries a particular importance for us as gay men, lesbians and transsexuals in the church, as her martyrdom at the hands of church authorities can be seen as a powerful metaphor for the persecution we receive from parts of the church, just for being honest about ourselves, for refusing to renounce our God-given identity. I’ve been thinking further along these lines, and in fact all the Christian martyrs can similarly seen as role models – although the others were not typically executed by the church itself. One martyr in particular has been closely identified as a gay (male) icon – St Sebastian.
This is strictly speaking inappropriate, because there is not anything about Sebastian or his martyrdom that is particularly gay . The main reason quite frankly, that he has acquired this cult status is that painters for centuries have made striking images of his martyrdom, featuring half naked, desirable young men pierced with arrows: soft porn masquerading as inspirational religious art. ( The Independent newspaper has an excellent analysis, still available on-line, on just how this association developed through the art works.) Now, I have no problem with gay men enjoying pictures of St Sebastian, but have had some trouble seeing him as a specifically gay saint. However, I have come across one particular painting, quite different from the original, which immediately put me in mind of a concept I have written about before as a possible model for us in negotiating a proper relationship with the church. Here’s the picture:
Gustave Rodolphe Boulanger, 1877
This is how I wrote about his death earlier this year:

Ordered to be executed, he was tied naked to a column and shot with arrows. Widely represented in art, it was not this, however, that killed him. He was left for dead, but was nursed back to life. After recovering, he intercepted the Emperor and denounced him for his cruelty to Christians. Enraged, the Emperor once again ordered his execution. This time, he was beaten to death, on 20th January 288. How many others have achieved martyrdom twice in one lifetime?

The image shows Sebastian pierced by arrows but “not dead yet”, confronting the Emperor Maximilian after the first attempted execution.

So, what’s the connection? Recall Michael B Kelly’s concept of the walk back from Emmaus , the idea that as lesbigaytrans people in the Catholic church, we have a need, even an obligation, to walk away from the church – and hen to return , to confront the institutional leaders of the church with the reality of the risen Lord, and of his real message to the world. When I saw this image, I suddenly saw it as representing all queer people confronting the emperors of the church with the evidence of their attempted martyrdom. In spite of all the efforts of the ecclesiastical mechanism, through the misrepresentation of Scripture, the characterization of us as “gravely “disordered, the active opposition in the political sphere to equal civic rights, and the failure to oppose criminalization, and hence the tacit support given to active bullying, violence and murder – not to mention actual execution by burning at the stake, in earlier years- we too, are not dead yet.

Following the example of Sebastian, the challenge facing us to do more than simply mope about our pain, satisfied with mere survival. We too, must return to the church, showing them with the evidence of our pain-then negotiate with them a process of reconciliation.

For a look at some of the extraordinary range of representations os Sebastian in art, just look at the results of a Google Image search, or go to “Iconography of Saint Sebastian (painting)”, which has an immense collection of links to art images, usefully arranged chronologically and by artist. I particularly like some of the images by 20th century artists, which seemed to me to go beyond the soppy sentimentality to something real and relevant. This one is startling – Sebastian as a self-portrait by a female artist, Gael Erwin. And why not?

Books:

Bray, AlanThe Friend

Related articles at Queering the Church, and at Queer Saints and Martyrs:

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