Same Sex Unions in Ancient Christianity

Ancient Christian art and written documents show that not only were same sex unions tolerated in the ancient Church, they were celebrated. It fact, it looks as though the rigorous anti-gay rhetoric did not begin until the 14th century.

A Kiev art museum contains a curious icon from St. Catherine’sMonastery on Mt. Sinai in Israel. It shows two robed Christian saints. Between them is a traditional Roman ‘pronubus’ (a best man), overseeing a wedding. The pronubus is Christ. The married couple are both men.

Is the icon suggesting that a gay “wedding” is being sanctified by Christ himself? The idea seems shocking. But the full answer comes from other early Christian sources about the two men featured in the icon, St. Sergius and St. Bacchus, two Roman soldiers who were Christian martyrs.

While the pairing of saints, particularly in the early Christian church, was not unusual, the association of these two men was regarded as particularly intimate. Severus, the Patriarch of Antioch (AD 512 – 518) explained that, “we should not separate in speech they [Sergius and Bacchus] who were joined in life”. This is not a case of simple “adelphopoiia.” In the definitive 10th century account of their lives, St. Sergius is openly celebrated as the “sweet companion and lover” of St. Bacchus. Sergius and Bacchus’s close relationship has led many modern scholars to believe they were lovers. But the most compelling evidence for this view is that the oldest text of their martyrology, written in New Testament Greek describes them as “erastai,” or “lovers”. In other words, they were a male homosexual couple. Their orientation and relationship was not only acknowledged, but it was fully accepted and celebrated by the early Christian church, which was far more tolerant than it is today.

-Colfax Record, 8/24/08

It looks like the original article from the Colfax Record (written by ThosPayne) is now offline, but here a link to the cached copy. It’s a good read.

The author of the original study, Prof. John Boswell, is the author of “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe From the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century“. It looks like some pretty interesting stuff.

We are all a product of our culture. When we assume our prejudices are revealed instead of learned, it can easily lead to ill will toward others.

Explore posts in the same categories: Beliefs and Superstitions, religion

2 Comments on “Same Sex Unions in Ancient Christianity”

  1. John Says:

    There has to be a catch…it can’t be this easy.

    Now that I’ve looked into it I don’t think that its the slam dunk that you were looking for.

    Seems this was proposed in a 1994 book by an author who apparently placed his agenda before scholarship (fancy that). A critical review may be found here

    • Nice catch. It does look like Boswell, if he did base his entire case on the word adelphopoiesis, misrepresented the facts. The term brother (adelphos) was pretty common in the early church, so it’s surprising he misread it’s significance. It looks like his activism clouded his scholarship.

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