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Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century Paperback – 1980
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Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality : Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century by John Boswell. Phoenix,1980
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I found this book to be equally divided as its reviews have been. It seems Dr. Boswell suffered from a desire of sorts to come to grips with his walk with Christ and seeming contradictory desire to continue in "sin" while striving for holiness. This resonates with me, as I struggle with the contradictions played out in my spiritual and social life. If I were to sum up Boswell's treatise , I would say he wished to reduce Homosexual attraction and consummation to a sin like any other. I know many homosexuals object to my categorizing homosexual acts as a sin, yet Boswell admits to this often. I first noticed it on Page 180 where he states: " Homosexuality is given no greater attention than other sins and, viewed comparatively, appears to have been thought less grave than such common activities as hunting." this line seems to encapsulate Boswell's thesis in the book; that it is a sin amongst many others. I agree. It certainly shouldn't be considered the be all end all of sins. Be that as it may, I dont think Boswell was able to illustrate either, that homosexuality was ever taught as good and wholesome either. He certainly made it painfully clear that it was more tolerated and accepted in greek and Roman societies before christianity made its mark. His reflections that many converts to christianity including clergy and bishops partook in Gay friendships and sexual relations were quite convincing that homosexuality was accepted in many of the confines of the church. St. Aelrod of Riveux was mentioned regarding his treatise on friendship where he talked of gay relations as a child and continued as very close friendships and expressions of filial love to his brothers in the cistercian monastery where he vowed a life a celibacy. However, Boswell fails, in my mind, to understand that expressions of love for those of all sexes with the love of Christ expressed most succinctly in his relationship with St. John, in no way can be construed as an acceptance of gay sex. If anything, it could accept close relations between men or women insofar as they relate to our relationship with God.
This all aside, Boswell has not made a convincing argument that the Church ever conceded that Gay love as expressed in sexual eroticism was ever acceptable or could ever become a sacrament. While he often referred to various popes ,such as St. Leo III, as not conferring horrible punishments on those caught in the act of sodomy, the popes such as Leo often made a distinction between a single act of sin and the idea of "living in sin" which could be defined as being resigned to such a sin as it is subjectively "natural" , and thus one should live accordingly. Boswell obsesses over the biblical and Traditional uses of the terms "Natural" and "Unnatural" sexual relations. These words are often used by the Church and lay people citing such scriptures as Romans 1, Leviticus and others often cited for their inferences against men lying with men. His suggestion that the levitical teachings against homosexuality as an abomination are no longer incumbent upon Christians due to the injunctions made after the council of Jerusalem where a conflict arose regarding jewish law being imposed on particularly gentile christians, while certainly feasible ignore, understandably, too many other jewish scriptures that don't condemn homosexuality but rather affirm the complimentarity of heterosexual union such as Genesis 2:24 "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and they become one flesh". Such complimentarity is affirmed in so many other parts of the new testament like the wedding feast at Cana where jesus performed his first miracle. In the Christian context, God is made manifest in the act of marriage where the union of Man and woman embody the injunction in Genesis to be fruitful and multiply.
"The Church teaches that Christian marriage is an efficacious sign of the covenant between Christ and the Church (cf. Eph 5:32)." (CCC) The church itself is considered female, represented in the Virgin Mary whose womb was the first tabernacle of Jesus. Even if Boswell and others are able to explain away each of the injunctions against homosexuality throughout the hebrew and christian scriptures(and he does so quite well on a few passages), it goes without saying that there are absolutely no injunctions in the Bible or Christian oral Tradition that suggest the union of same sex couples should be promulgated.
The Church has always had sinners , and Christ even promoted one to be an Apostle. Christ compels us to brotherly and sisterly love and to even love our enemies. Expression of that love through sexual intercourse is only promoted as by a man and a woman from Genesis through Revelation and those truths have been promoted through oral tradition as well. Just as Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter denied him 3 times, and countless other Christians, whether clerics or laypeople have sinned against him, we are all welcomed home again and again through prayer, confession and repentance.
I appreciate the time and detail that Dr. Boswell gave to this particular treatise and I think he is successful in helping people appreciate how things haven't really changed much over the centuries. While homosexuality is a sin of grave order , it has been propped up by virtue of it being thrust upon people in the LGBT movement and the promulgation of gay marriage. It certainly is hypocritical of us, to prop up this sin and seem to ignore or accept others, however, until the sinners stand up and promote their pride , revel in their sins, and request their sins be recognized as legitimate and good, i suspect they will continue to be ignored until such a time as that occurs. 'Til then the church will continue to encourage the faithful in their walk with Christ, ever mindful of the injunction of Christ to "Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me".
If anything, this book has indeed helped me to understand that the struggle against any sexual or non sexual vice is not exclusive to one group of people and that I as a christian must take this understanding when dealing with people , particularly in the LGBT community who struggle daily with their beliefs and practices. Gay and non gay, conservative or liberal, religious or atheist are really no different. we are all sinners and need to encourage each other in our walk and not allow personal prejudice to get in the way promoting the love that Christ taught regarding confession, repentance, and penance but also most importantly the virtues of patience, endurance, and the desire of all to bear another's burdens as Christ bore ours on the tree. Our expression of Love is the expression of concern for their emotional and spiritual well being.This is the essence of a love that can be expressed by example of the relationship between Jesus and the Apostle John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved"!
I think Boswell did an incredible job of putting homosexuality into historic and cultural contexts.
Most recent customer reviews
absorbed by a reader. This book will be one of my favorites.