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History of Christianity and homosexuality

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History of Christianity and homosexuality

This article focuses on the history of homosexuality and Christianity from the beginnings of the Church through the mid 1900s. For current teachings of Christian Churches on homosexuality see Homosexuality and Christianity.

Christian leaders have written about homosexual male-male sexual activities since the first decades of Christianity; female-female sexual behaviour was essentially ignored.[1] Throughout the majority of Christian history most theologians and Christian denominations have viewed homosexual behavior as immoral or sinful. However, in the past century some prominent theologians and Christian religious groups have espoused a wide variety of beliefs and practices towards homosexuals, including the establishment of some 'open and accepting' congregations that actively support LGBT members.


  • Early Christianity 1
  • The Middle Ages 2
  • The Reformation and Counter-Reformation 3
  • Diverging opinions in modern era 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7

Early Christianity

Prior to the rise of Christianity, certain sexual practices that people today call "homosexual"[2] had existed among certain groups, with some degree of social acceptance in ancient Rome and ancient Greece (e.g. the pederastic relationship of an adult Greek male with a Greek youth, or of a Roman citizen with a slave). It is believed by some that St. Paul was only addressing such practices in Romans 1: 26–27, while others usually see these verses as condemning all forms of homoeroticism.


's Erotikos (Dialogue on Love) argues that

He also says



The Judaic prohibitions found in Leviticus 18:22 (see also Leviticus 18) and 20:13 address the issue of sex between two men. The latter verse (20:13) says: 'And if a man also lies with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."

In his fourth homily on Romans,[5] St. John Chrysostom argued in the fourth century that homosexual acts are worse than murder and so degrading that they constitute a kind of punishment in itself, and that enjoyment of such acts actually makes them worse, "for suppose I were to see a person running naked, with his body all besmeared with mire, and yet not covering himself, but exulting in it, I should not rejoice with him, but should rather bewail that he did not even perceive that he was doing shamefully." He also said:

However, he emphasizes, in P.G. 60:417, col. 1, near bottom of the column,that he (and Paul) is not referring to two men who are in love with one another, but who burn in their appetite for each other. He writes, clarifying Paul's position in Romans 1,

Historian John Boswell contends that adelphopoiesis, a Christian rite for uniting two persons of the same sex as "spiritual brothers/sisters", amounted to an approved outlet for romantic and indeed sexual love between couples of the same sex. Boswell also drew attention to Saints Sergius and Bacchus, whose icon depicts the two standing together with Jesus between or behind them, a position he identifies with a pronubus or "best man". Critics of Boswell's views have argued that the union created was more like blood brotherhood; and that this icon is a typical example of an icon depicting two saints who were martyred together, with the usual image of Christ that appears on many religious icons, and therefore that there is no indication that it depicts a "wedding". But Saints Sergius and Bacchus were both referred to as erastai in ancient Greek manuscripts, the same word used to describe lovers (Boswell).

The 16th Canon of the Council of Ancyra (314)[6] prescribed a penance of at least twenty years' duration for those "who have done the irrational" (alogeuesthai). At the time this was written, it referred to bestiality, not homosexuality. However, later Latin translations translated it to include both.[7]

In the year 342, the Christian emperors Constantius II and Constans decreed the death penalty for any male who "marries [a man] as a woman... [a situation in which] gender has lost its place".[8] In the year 390, the Christian emperors Valentinian II, Theodosius I and Arcadius denounced males "acting the part of a woman", condemning those who were guilty of such acts to be publicly burned.[9]

The Middle Ages

St. Thomas Aquinas
Saints Sergius and Bacchus

Historian John Boswell, in his essay The Church and the Homosexual,[10] attributes Christianity's denunciations of "homosexuality" to an alleged rising intolerance in Europe throughout the 12th century, which he claims was also reflected in other ways. His premise is that when sodomy wasn't being explicitly and "officially" denounced, it was therefore being "tolerated". Historian R. W. Southern disagreed with Boswell's claims and wrote in 1990 that "the only relevant generalization which emerges from the penitential codes down to the eleventh century is that sodomy was treated on about the same level as copulation with animals." Southern further notes that "Boswell thinks that the omission of sodomy from the stringent new code of clerical celibacy issued by the Roman Council of 1059 implies a degree of tolerance. Countering this is the argument that the Council of 1059 had more urgent business on hand; and in any case, sodomy had been condemned by Leo IX at Rheims in 1049."[11] Similarly, Pierre Payer asserted in 1984 that Boswell's thesis (as outlined in his Christianity, Homosexuality and Social Tolerance) ignores an alleged wealth of condemnations found in the pentitential literature prior to the 12th century.[12] More recently, historian Allan Tulchin wrote in 2007 in the Journal of Modern History that, "It is impossible to prove either way and probably also somewhat irrelevant to understanding their way of thinking. They loved each other, and the community accepted that." [13]

The most influential theologian of the Medieval period was Saint Thomas Aquinas, regarded by Catholics as a Doctor of the Church. His moral theology contained a strong element of deontological natural law. In his view, not all things to which a person might be inclined are "natural" in the morally relevant sense; rather, only the inclination to the full and proper expression of the human nature, and inclinations which align with that inclination, are natural. Contrary inclinations are perversions of the natural in the sense that they do seek a good, but in a way destructive of good.[14][15][16]

This view points from the natural to the Divine, because (following Aristotle) he said all people seek happiness; but according to Aquinas, happiness can only finally be attained through the Beatific Vision.[17] Therefore, all sins are also against the natural law. But the natural law of many aspects of life is knowable apart from special revelation by examining the forms and purposes of those aspects. It is in this sense that Aquinas considered homosexuality unnatural, since it involves a kind of partner other than the kind to which the purpose of sexuality points. He considered it comparable to heterosexual sex for pleasure (rather than reproduction).[18]

An earlier Doctor of the Church, St. Peter Damian, wrote the Liber Gomorrhianus, an extended attack on both homosexuality and masturbation.[19] He portrayed homosexuality as a counter-rational force undermining morality, religion, and society itself,[20] and in need of strong suppression lest it spread even and especially among clergy.[21]

Hildegard of Bingen, born seven years after the death of St. Peter Damian, reported seeing visions and recorded them in Scivias (short for Scito vias Domini, "Know the Ways of the Lord"[22]). In Book II Vision Six, she quotes God as condemning same-sex intercourse, including lesbianism; "a woman who takes up devilish ways and plays a male role in coupling with another woman is most vile in My sight, and so is she who subjects herself to such a one in this evil deed".[23]

Her younger contemporary Alain de Lille personified the theme of sexual sin in opposition to nature in The Complaint of Nature by having Nature herself denounce sexual immorality and especially homosexuality as rebellion against her direction, terming it confusion between masculine and feminine and between subject and object. The Complaint also includes a striking description of the neglect of womanhood:

The tone of the denunciations often indicate a more than theoretical concern. Archbishop Ralph of Tours had his lover John installed as bishop of Orléans with agreement of both the King of France and Pope Urban II.[25] In 1395 there was a transvestite homosexual prostitute arrested in London with some records surviving,[26] and the Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards included the denunciation of priestly celibacy as a cause of sodomy.[27]

Otto III was intimate with many men (sharing the bed and bath),[28] and was anointed by the Pope to be the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Reformation and Counter-Reformation

Martin Luther's view of homosexuality is recorded in Plass's What Luther Says:[29]

Diverging opinions in modern era

Historically, Christian churches have regarded homosexual sex as sinful, based on the Catholic understanding of the natural law and traditional interpretations of certain passages in the Bible. This position is today affirmed by groups representing most Christians, including the Catholic Church (1.1 billion members), Orthodox Church (250 million members), and some Protestant denominations, especially Evangelical churches such as the Southern Baptist Convention (16.3 million members) and the United Methodist Church (12 million members).[30] Restorationist churches such as the LDS Church (13 million members) also view homosexual sex as sinful.

However, a minority interpret biblical passages differently and argue that homosexuality can be seen as morally acceptable. This approach has been taken by a number of denominations in North America, notably the United Church of Canada (2.8 million members), the United Church of Christ (1.1 million members), the Moravian Church (825,000 members), the Anglican Episcopal church, the Anglican Church of Canada (800,000 members), the Liberal Catholic Church, Friends General Conference, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (1.9 million members), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (3.9 million members) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. Relatively many denominations had taken this approach in Europe including united, reformed and Lutheran churches: the Evangelical Church in Germany (24.5 million members), Church of Sweden (6.6 million members), Church of Norway, Church of Denmark, Protestant Church of the Netherlands (3.9 million members), Church of Iceland, United Protestant Church in Belgium, United Protestant Church of France, Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, Methodist Church of Great Britain (330,000 members) and Church of Scotland.

A new denomination, the Metropolitan Community Church (40,000 members), has also come into existence specifically to serve the Christian LGBT community. However, individual Christians maintain a variety of beliefs on this subject that may or may not correspond to their official church doctrines. Some mainline Protestant denominations in the United States have also removed language in their bylaws which suggest that homosexuality is a sinful state of being. The Book of Order used by the PCUSA reflects this change. Similar modifications in position can also be seen in the Lutheran ELCA and Disciples of Christ.[31] Although acceptance of sexually active LGBT laity has increased in terms of actual practice and in terms of church law, some of these denominations continue to limit leadership and clergy roles for LGBT persons. A number of denominations, like the aforementioned United Methodists, remain divided over the issues relating to homosexuality, with a large number of members pushing for changes in the church's Book of Discipline to allow for full inclusion of LGBT persons in the life of the church.[32]

In 1989 The Evangelical Network was formed with LGBT Evangelical Christians it is a network of churches, ministries and Christian workers.

See also


  1. ^ Spong, J.S. 2005. The Sins of Scripture. Harper Collins ISBN 0-06-076205-5
  2. ^ The words "homosexual" and "homosexuality" were not coined until the late 19th century are placed in scare quotes because they are anachronistic when employed with reference to the linguistic usages of classical antiquity. See the comments by Craig A. Williams in his Roman Homosexuality (Oxford, 1999), p. 6, and D. S. Bailey's comments in Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1955), p. x: "Strictly speaking, the Bible and Christian tradition know nothing of homosexuality; both are concerned solely with the commission of homosexual acts – hence the title of this study is loosely, though conventionally, worded."
  3. ^ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  4. ^ Plutarch, "Eroticus" in Selected Essays and Dialogues (Oxford, 1993), p. 279.
  5. ^ "CHURCH FATHERS: Homily 4 on Romans (Chrysostom)". Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  6. ^ "CHURCH FATHERS: Council of Ancyra (A.D. 314)". Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  7. ^ Sara Parvis, Marcellus of Ancyra and the Last Years of the Arian Controversy (Oxford, 2006), pp. 19, 25–27. Parvis notes that "although the Latin versions all hedged their bets and translated the word in both senses [sodomy and bestiality], the earliest Syriac simply translates it with the phrase "have intercourse with animals" (p.27).
  8. ^ Theodosian Code 9.7.3: "When a man marries [a man] as a woman offering herself to men (quum vir nubit in feminam viris porrecturam), what can he be seeking, where gender has lost its place; when the crime is one which it is not profitable to know; when Venus is changed to another form; when love is sought and not found? We order the statutes to arise, the laws to be armed with an avenging sword, that those infamous persons who are now, or who hereafter may be, guilty may be subjected to exquisite punishment. Some scholars (Dalla, Cantarella, and Treggiari) note that the "marriage" in question may be a metaphor for the passive, or "feminine" role in sex rather than a literal reference to a same-sex parody of marriage. Williams, in his Roman Homosexuality (p. 246), agrees but insists that a literal reading is equally plausible.
  9. ^ (Theodosian Code 9.7.6): All persons who have the shameful custom of condemning a man's body, acting the part of a woman's to the sufferance of alien sex (for they appear not to be different from women), shall expiate a crime of this kind in avenging flames in the sight of the people.
  10. ^
  11. ^ R. W. Southern, Saint Anselm: A Portrait in a Landscape (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 149–150.
  12. ^ Pierre J. Payer, Sex and the Penitentials (Toronto, 1984), pp. 135–139 and passim. Boswell attempts to dismiss four hundred years' worth of penitentials in a few paragraphs of Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, pp. 180–183.
  13. ^
  14. ^ "SUMMA THEOLOGICA: The natural law (Prima Secundae Partis, Q. 94)". Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  15. ^ "The Natural Law Tradition in Ethics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)". Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  16. ^ "St. Thomas Aquinas and Natural Law: Budziszewski". Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  17. ^ "SUMMA THEOLOGICA: What is happiness (Prima Secundae Partis, Q. 3)". Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  18. ^ and
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Illinois Medieval Association". Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  21. ^ [4]
  22. ^ "Primary Sources | Apocalypse! FRONTLINE". PBS. Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  23. ^ "Scivias", translated by Columba Hart and Jane Bishop, 1990; p. 279.
  24. ^ "Medieval Sourcebook: Alain of Lille [Alanus de lnsulis], The complaint of nature [extracts]". Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  25. ^ "Matt & Andrej Koymasky - Famous GLTB - John of Salisbury". 2004-07-05. Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  26. ^ "Medieval Sourcebook: The Questioning of John Rykener, A Male Cross-Dressing Prostitute, 1395".  
  27. ^ [5]
  28. ^ •Petrus Damiani, Vita Romualdi, ch. 25, PL 145, 975C, Vita Adalberti, ch. 23, MGH, SS 4, 591
  29. ^ Plass, Ewald Martin. What Luther Says: An Anthology, Volume 1, 1959. p. 134.
  30. ^ "What is the denomination’s position on homosexuality?". The United Methodist Church. Retrieved 2007-06-24. 
  31. ^ Christian Post:Lutherans Narrowly Adopt New Sexuality Statement
  32. ^ "Reconciling Ministries Network". 

Further reading

  • Early Teachings on Homosexuality
  • Summa Theologiae – online version
  • Hildegard of Bingen, "Scivias," Columba Hart and Jane Bishop, translators; New York: Paulist Press, 1990
  • The Church & the Homosexual
  • John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980
  • Christian Passage On St. Serge & St. Bacchus
  • [6] Claude Courouve, L'homosexualité maculine dans les textes grecs et larins de l'Antiquité et du Moyen-Âge
  • Debate: St. Augustine's Sexuality
  • Gagnon, Robert A.J. (2002). The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Abingdon Press. ISBN 0-687-02279-7
  • Author & seminary professor's site with many resources
  • Johansson, Warren 'Whosoever Shall Say To His Brother, Racha.' Studies in Homosexuality, Vol XII: Homosexuality and Religion and Philosophy. Ed. Wayne Dynes & Stephen Donaldson. New York & London: Garland, 1992. pp. 212–214
  • Smith, Morton "Clement of Alexandria and Secret Mark: The Score at the End of the First Decade." Studies in Homosexuality, Vol XII: Homosexuality and Religion and Philosophy. Ed. Wayne Dynes & Stephen Donaldson. New York & London: Garland, 1992. pp. 295–307
  • Mader, Donald "The Entimos Pais of Matthew 8:5–13 and Luke 7:1–10" Studies in Homosexuality, Vol XII: Homosexuality and Religion and Philosophy. Ed. Wayne Dynes & Stephen Donaldson. New York & London: Garland, 1992. pp. 223–235.
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