Like me you’ve probably seen this sort of thing doing the rounds on teh intarweb recently:

Prof John Boswell, the late chairman of Yale University’s history department, found there were ceremonies called the Office of Same-Sex Union and the Order for Uniting Two Men in the 10th to 12th centuries.

The medievalist published Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century in 1980.

According to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies section of Yale University’s website, the controversial book argued that the modern Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality ‘departed from the tolerance and even celebration of homosexual love that had characterized the first millennium of the Church’s teachings’.

The research brings into perspective the debate raging in America over same-sex marriage after President Barack Obama announced that he now supports it.

The chronicler Gerald of Wales (‘Geraldus Cambrensis’) recorded same-gender Christian unions taking place in Ireland in the late 12th and early 13th centuries.

And, of course, there are wild cries of delight at this “proof” that Christians in the middle-ages were happily wedding men to each other.

Friends, it’s nothing but plain dishonesty on the part of “academics” like Boswell. Gerald of Wales’ record of Ireland “The Topography of Ireland” is freely available online [pdf] and I’m surprised nobody has yet simply read through it and fisked Boswell’s appalling argument.

Here’s the actual citation Boswell makes to prove his point from a section entitled “the making of leagues” or “the making of brothers:

…then they go in procession around the church, and afterwards entering within its walls, they confederate themselves in an indissoluble alliance before the altar, with oaths prodigally multiplied upon the relics of the saints, and confirmed by the celebration of the mass and prayers of the holy priests

Now, any honest reader would have to admit that it’s certainly not conclusive evidence of a rite of same-sex marriage. But even that’s not the argument. Here’s the argument: the context (p.77, my emphasis):

Chapter XXII: Of a new mode of making a league/brotherhood: a proof of their wickedness

Among many other inventions of their abominable guile, there is one which especially proves it. When they wish to take off any one, they assemble in a company  with him at some holy place, under the guise of religious and peaceful meeting; then they go in procession around the church, and afterwards entering within its walls, they confederate themselves in an indissoluble alliance before the altar, with oaths prodigally multiplied upon the relics of the saints, and confirmed by the celebration of the mass and prayers of the holy priests, as if it were a solemn affiance. At length, as a still stronger ratification of their league, and, as it were, the completion of their affair, they drink each others’ blood, which is shed for the purpose. This custom has been handed down from the rites of the heathens, who were wont to seal their treaties in blood. How often, in the very act of such an alliance being made by bloody and deceitful men, has so much blood been fraudulently and iniquitously spilt, that one or other of them has fainted on the spot! How often has the same hour which witnessed the contract, or that which followed it, seen it broken in an unheard-of manner by a bloody divorce!

So a number of quite obvious things:

  1. There really is very little indication at all that this is a homosexual union; it reads like a social pact between men – an alliance. Perhaps between warlords or elders.
  2. It’s quite obvious that Gerald thinks the whole thing is abominable and pagan. At every point he argues that it’s a corruption of true Christian religion and the worst kind of corruption. In chapter XIX he argues that they are ignorant of the basics of the Christian faith.
  3. The chapter is part of a long section of Gerald providing copious proofs that the Irish are wicked in almost every way.
  4. Thus it follows that even if this was a homosexual union (which is really a massive stretch in itself) it is presented as being utterly contrary to good Christian order. Gerald makes a point of observing that to carry it out in church with the complicity of priests and a mass is only to compound the wickedness.

And yet Boswell put this forward as an example of medieval “Christian” same-sex marriage and it’s leaped upon by contemporary proponents.

Which, friends, betrays an utter lack of intellectual and academic integrity. But then that’s liberal “Christian” hermeneutic for you. Seriously.

4 comments on “Same-Sex Marriage in Medieval Irish Churches? Boswell Sinks to a New Academic Low

  1. But wasn’t Gerald biased against the Irish? Wasn’t he part of the invading country that was taking it over. As such, it’s not suprising that he would give out about it.

    • oh, there’s no doubt about that – it’s well documented, or at least his stance has been challenged.

      The point is, there’s nothing in what Gerald says that allows Boswell to make the claims that he does. He’s just reaching way too much and reading his own conclusions. It’s as though he’s desperate to find some vindication. Even if Gerald were utterly distorting the matter (and I think it’s more accurate to view him as embellishing), it still has SSB’s in a negative light.

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