Saturday, July 01, 2006

Daniel Maguire: Early Church Recognized Gay Unions

From Dad29, the fact that Marquette theologian Dan Maguire has been claiming that the early Christian church recognized same-sex unions.

Thus, for Maguire, it would be perfectly fine for the Catholic and other Christian bodies to now recognize homosexual unions.

The problem, however, is that Maguire has latched onto and embraced a piece of extremely poor scholarship on this issue.

Maguire has authored a pamphlet titled “A Catholic Defense of Same Sex Marriage,” which has been sent to every House and Senate office on Capitol Hill. Of course, such mailings have little effect on Congress.

The pamphlet asserts:
Both views — for or against homosexual marriage — are at home in the Catholic world and neither one of them can be called more orthodox or more official or more Catholic than the other.
This would certainly come as a surprise to the Pope!

The essay continues:
The Catholic Church is beginning to rediscover what it once knew; that not all persons are heterosexual, that many people are homosexual and that this is just fine. In the past, the Church accepted homosexuality more openly and even had liturgies to celebrate same sex unions.
Maguire has a citation for this, and the book cited is John Boswell’s, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. That’s all. His entire claim is based on this book.

Unfortunately, the scholarship of the book is extremely shoddy.

What Boswell has done is find ceremonies that involved adelphopoiesis, which means “brother-making” and assert that these “brother” relationships were really sexual unions solemnized by the Church.

If nobody has seen it that way before, that’s only because in the fourteenth century the Church developed an “obsessive” fear of homosexuality and suppressed the true historical record.

Does this begin to sound a little like The Da Vinci Code?

In a sexually-obsessed contemporary society, it might seem that any union between individuals must be erotic, but that viewpoint is entirely ahistorical.

The book got a lot of flack not merely from conservatives, but from scholars writing in such journals as the liberal Christian Century. In that journal, reviewer Philip Lyndon Reynolds concluded:
This book has very little bearing on the issue of gay union and gay marriage in churches today. A Christian proponent of gay marriage or even of tolerated gay unions must face the fact that such acts are a radical departure from traditional norms. One can make this departure either by honestly abandoning some or all of the tradition, or (much more tenuously) by using an historical, relativist hermeneutic to locate some deeper stream within the tradition. . . . But one cannot find support either for the licitness of homosexuality or for the validity of gay marriage within the tradition of the premodern church.
Further, Dad29 quotes the experiences of Robin Young, which vividly illustrate a same-gender non-sexual union.
This is a subject about which I have the good fortune to speak not merely as a scholar or an observer, but as a participant. Nine years ago I was joined in devout sisterhood to another woman, apparently in just such a ceremony as Boswell claims to elucidate in his book. The ceremony took place during a journey to some of the Syrian Christian communities of Turkey and the Middle East, and the other member of this same-sex union was my colleague Professor Susan Ashbrook Harvey of Brown University. During the course of our travels we paid a visit to St. Mark’s Monastery in Jerusalem, the residence of the Syrian Orthodox archbishop. There our host, Archbishop Dionysius Behnam Jajaweh, remarked that since we had survived the rigors of Syria and Eastern Turkey in amicable good humor, we two women must be good friends indeed. Would we like to be joined as sisters the next morning after the bishop’s Sunday liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? Intrigued, we agreed, and on a Sunday in late June of 1985, we followed the bishop and a monk through the Old City to a side chapel in the Holy Sepulchre where, according to the Syrian Orthodox, lies the actual tomb of Jesus. After the liturgy, the bishop had us join our right hands together and he wrapped them in a portion of his garment. He pronounced a series of prayers over us, told us that we were united as sisters, and admonished us not to quarrel. Ours was a sisterhood stronger than blood, confirmed in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, he said, and since it was a spiritual union, it would last beyond the grave.
A simple search of Google Scholar for “‘blood brother’ ceremony” turns up scores of articles about such rites in societies all over the globe.

What Maguire has done is to latch onto one piece of disreputable but convenient “scholarship” and use it to promote his pro-gay marriage agenda.

He’s not merely arguing here that gay marriage is good (although he’s arguing that too), and he’s not arguing that the Church has been wrong on the issue all these years.

He’s misstating the Church’s position, and claiming it’s consistent with his desires.

Domenico Bettinelli characterized Maguire’s attitude as “I am my own magisterium.”


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