Thursday, July 19, 2012

Boswell: A Union Ceremony, Nothing Else

In my latest reading of Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, John Boswell argues against different interpretations of the ceremonies for same-sex unions in Christian Europe, particularly the ones that do not believe that the ceremonies concerned homosexual unions.

First, there's the view that the ceremonies concerned the spiritual love that Christians are supposed to have towards one another.  Boswell has a problem with this proposal, for the ceremonies focused on two people rather than groups of Christians, plus the ceremony was not permitted for monks, which would be odd if the ceremony were about spiritual love, since monks, too, were supposed to have that.

(UPDATE: Robert Wilken, who sees the rites as friendship agreements rather than same-sex unions, states the following about the ceremony and monks: "On occasion in Christian monastic literature one finds warnings that monks should not participate in a ritual of 'making of a brother' with someone outside of the monastery. Such unions were prohibited monks because they entangled them in relations involving money or property with persons outside of the monasteries."  See here.)

Second, there's the view that the ceremonies were about blood brotherhood, in which two people form a bond by exchanging blood.  But Boswell says that the ceremonies do not mention blood, whereas blood is explicitly mentioned during the Middle Ages when blood brotherhood is discussed.

Third, there's the view that the ceremonies commemorated friendship.  Boswell considers this conceivable (and he notes earlier in the book that there were friendships between males that were non-sexual).  But Boswell notes that the ceremonies do not mention friendship.

Fourth, there's the view that the ceremonies concerned adoption.  This view actually is open to the ceremonies pertaining to homosexuality, for there were cases in the ancient world in which adoption entailed "homosexual attachment" (page 194).  But Boswell notes that adoption is not mentioned, that the ceremonies appear to create a relationship of two people joining together rather than one being subordinate to another, and that there is a reference to the couple, Serge and Bacchus.  On page 147, Boswell says that Serge and Bacchus were high-ranking Roman soldiers in the third-fourth centuries who were close to one another, and they were described similarly to how Tertullian portrayed a "Christian heterosexual married couple" (Boswell's words).

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