Let Us Remember, March 17th: St Patrick of Ireland- a Gay Role Model?

So why should we see St Paddy as a gay icon?

In a notable book on Irish gay history (Terrible Queer Creatures“) Brian Lacey presents some evidence that Patrick may have had a long term intimate relationship with a man:
“St. Patrick himself may have had a relationship tinged with homoeroticism. Tirechan, a late seventh century cleric who wrote about St. Patrick, tells the story of a man Patrick visited and converted to Christianity, who had a son to whom Patrick took a strong liking. Tirechan wrote that “he gave him the name Benignus, because he took Patrick’s feet between his hands and would not sleep with his father and mother, but wept unless he would be allowed to sleep with Patrick.” Patrick baptized the boy and made him his close lifelong companion, so much so that Benignus succeeded Patrick as bishop of Armagh.”
saint-patrick
Among the few verifiable facts of Patrick’s life, are that when he was about 16, he was captured from his home and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he lived for six years before escaping and returning to his family. After becoming a cleric, he returned to northern and western Ireland as an ordained bishop, but little is known about the places where he worked. By the seventh century, he had already come to be revered as the patron saint of Ireland.
It is his return to his place of hardship and slavery that should interest LGBT Catholics. Somewhere, I read a report* that after his escape from slavery and return to Ireland, he supported himself by working for a time as a prostitute  – yes, good old Patrick is said to have sold sexual favours.

*  In a comment to an earlier posting of this piece, theologian John McNeill has said that he thinks the book with this story was “How the Irish Saved Civilization“, by Thomas Cahill. “He claims that Patrick paid for his passage back to Ireland by servicing the sailors on the boat.”

 

 

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St Patrick, Gay Role Model?

So why should we see St Paddy as a gay icon?

In a notable book on Irish gay history (“Terrible Queer Creatures”) Brian Lacey presents some evidence that Patrick may have had a long term intimate relationship with a man:
“St. Patrick himself may have had a relationship tinged with homoeroticism. Tirechan, a late seventh century cleric who wrote about St. Patrick, tells the story of a man Patrick visited and converted to Christianity, who had a son to whom Patrick took a strong liking. Tirechan wrote that “he gave him the name Benignus, because he took Patrick’s feet between his hands and would not sleep with his father and mother, but wept unless he would be allowed to sleep with Patrick.” Patrick baptized the boy and made him his close lifelong companion, so much so that Benignus succeeded Patrick as bishop of Armagh.”
saint-patrick
Among the few verifiable facts of Patrick’s life, are that when he was about 16, he was captured from his home and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he lived for six years before escaping and returning to his family. After becoming a cleric, he returned to northern and western Ireland as an ordained bishop, but little is known about the places where he worked. By the seventh century, he had already come to be revered as the patron saint of Ireland.
It is his return to his place of hardship and slavery that should interest LGBT Catholics. Somewhere, I read a report* that after his escape from slavery and return to Ireland, he supported himself by working for a time as a prostitute  – yes, good old Patrick is said to have sold sexual favours.
Does this sound far fetched? Not if you consider the historical realities of the time.  Patrick’s home was in Roman Britain. throughout the Empire, prostitution was an entirely acceptable way for men or women in desperate circumstances to make a living. Consider also his likely experience as a slave.  In both Roman and Greek society, as well as elsewhere, it was assumed that one of the duties of a slave, particularly if young or attractive, was to provide sexual services on demand.  Ireland was not under Roman rule, but there is no reason to suppose that the conditions of slavery were notably different.  (Lacy shows in his book that in pre-christian Ireland same sex relationships were accepted and respected.)
There is another reason, though why we as queer Catholics should look to Patrick as a role model, regardless of his own sexual history, a reason which goes to the heart of his mission.
In “Faith Beyond Resentment”,  theologian James Alison observes that in the Gospel story of the healing of the man possessed by demons, Jesus instruction to the man after healing was to “Go home,” that is, back to the community which had tormented and rejected him, back to his persecutors.
This is what Patrick did.  Having escaped from slavery and returned to his original home, he responded to what he saw as a call to return to the country of his captivity, to go back to the land of his tormentors – and convert them.
So he did, and so, I think, must we.  Tormented and persecuted we have sometimes (but not always) been by the Catholic Church. Somehow, though, we must find a way to move beyond the anger that provokes, to set aside the resentment, and to “go home to” the church. Thereby we will contribute to its own conversion.

*  In a comment to an earlier posting of this piece, theologian JohnMcNeill has said that he thinks the book with this story was “How The Irish Saved Civilization”, by Thomas Cahill. “He claims that Patrick paid for his passage back to Ireland by servicing the sailors on the boat.”

Books:

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The Non-European Popes

The election of Francis as a Pope from outside Europe is of great significance – not because he was the first non-European in the office, but because it reminds us that he was not. More accurately, as many press reports accurately put it, he is the first non- European pope since 13oo.  Before that, there were many others  – and the first use of the word “pope” was not applied to the bishop of Rome, but to other bishops of the Eastern Church. We have become so accustomed to identifying the Catholic Church with the Roman Catholic Church, that we forget that in its origins, the Church was Eastern, not primarily Roman at all.

The earliest “Christians” did not describe themselves as such, but simply as Jews who were followers of Christ. Later, when Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles took the message further afield, he travelled throughout the Eastern Roman Empire, as well as to Rome.

In addition to his Letter to the Romans, among his extant writings are letters to the church in Corinth, Philippi and Thessalonica on the Greek peninsula, in Ephesus, Colosse, and Galatia in Asia Minor – and to the Hebrews.  So it is not surprising that the earliest leaders of the Church should not have been from Western Europe, at all. The (Catholic) Professor of the History of Christianity at Cambridge University, Eammon Duffy, notes that for the first century of Christian history, there was no clear distinction between “bishops” and presbyters”, and when the bishop’s office did begin to become clearly defined in the early second century, this did not apply to Rome until about the mid- century.

Similarly, when the word “pope” was first used, it did not mean as it does today, a single head of the whole church, but was an honorific taken by a number of bishops.

In the early centuries of Christianity, this title was applied, especially in the east, to all bishops and other senior clergy, and later became reserved in the west to the Bishop of Rome, a reservation made official only in the 11th century. The earliest record of the use of this title was in regard to the by then deceased Patriarch of Alexandria, Pope Heraclas of Alexandria (232–248).

Wikipedia

Reference to the Patriarch of Alexandria is important as a reminder that even as Rome did develop as an important centre of church authority, it was only one of five. In addition to the Patriarch of Alexandria, there were patriarchs of Jerusalem, Antioch and Constantinople – and of Rome. One striking example of to what extent the early church was based iu the East, not in Rome, comes from the record of the ecumenical councils, of which the first eight were held in the East (Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, Constantinople Two, Constantinople Three, 2nd Council of Nicaea). 

Although it for various reasons Rome was accorded particular respect, it was no more than one among equals. Rome was also assisted, in its rise to ultimate dominance, by developments in the Middle East, as the rise of Islam wiped out the influence of Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch. This left Rome and Constantinople in continuous rivalry for superiority, until first the Great Schism, and then the fall of Constantinople, left Rome in control of by far the major part of what was left of  the Christian Church. It was not until after the Schism that an ecumenical council was first held in Rome, with Lateran 1 in 1123.

“Eternal Bliss” – SS Felicity and Perpetua, March 7th

Felicitas Perpetua” = eternal bliss – and also the names of the two saints the Catholic Church remembers and celebrates every year on March 7, SS Felicity and Perpetua, who were martyred together in Carthage in 203. Their story is not well known, but their names are familiar to Catholics as one of many same sex couples listed in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass. These paired names are an echo of their place in the ancient rite of adelphopoeisis (literally, “making of brothers”), the liturgical rite once used to bless same sex unions in Church.

As two women martyred together, and from the kiss of peace which they exchanged at the end, they are frequently described as a lesbian counterpart to Sergius and Bacchus. This is inaccurate. Their relationship was not primarily one of lovers in the modern sense, but of mistress and slave. But that description is also inaccurate to modern ears, as it overlooks the very different status of women,and the very different nature of marriage relationships, in Roman times. In the journal kept by Perpetua (from which we know the story), she never once even mentions her husband. It is entirely possible (even probable?) that whatever the nature of her sexual life, Perpetua’s emotional involvement with Felicity may have been more important than her relationship with her husband.

This relationship was certainly an intense and devoted one. As such, we can recognize it as queer – and on hearing their names during the Mass, reflect on the place of same sex unions over many centuries of church history.

 For more on the biographical details, see the excellent post at Jesus in Love. Here is an extract:

The details of their imprisonment are known because Perpetua kept a journal, the first known written document by a woman in Christian history. In fact, her “Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions” was so revered in North Africa that St. Augustine warned people not to treat it like the Bible. People loved the story of the two women comforting each other in jail and giving each other the kiss of peace as they met their end.
Perpetua was a 22-year-old noblewoman and a nursing mother. Felicity, her slave, gave birth to a daughter while they were in prison. Although she was married, Perpetua does not mention having a husband in the narrative.
They were arrested for their Christian faith, imprisoned together, and held onto each other in the amphitheater at Carthage shortly before their execution on March 7, 203.
The icon of Perpetua and Felicity at the top of this post was painted by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his progressive icons. It is rare to see an icon about the love between women, especially two African women. The rich reds and heart-shaped double-halo make it look like a holy Valentine.
Read more at Jesus in Love
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Michelangelo Buonarotti

b. March 6, 1475

d. February 18, 1564

 

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni is considered one of the greatest artists of all time. His art typified the High Renaissance style with use of naturalistic light, depiction of realistic figures and emphasis on the beauty of nature. One of the true “Renaissance men,” his talent encompassed fine art, architecture and poetry. He was referred to as “Il Divino” (“The Divine One”).

 

Michelangelo was born in the Tuscany region of Italy. At age 13, he started an apprenticeship in Florence with Domenic Ghirlandaio, from whom he learned fresco painting.

 

He moved to Rome and received a commission from the French ambassador to the Holy See, the central government of the Catholic Church. In 1497, he completed one of Christendom’s most significant artworks, the “Pietà.” The lifelike marble sculpture depicts Mary cradling the body of Christ after the Crucifixion.

 

His colossal marble statue “David” is considered the masterpiece of High Renaissance sculpture. Completed in 1501, the sculpture is 17 feet tall and is exhibited in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Florence.

 

Michelangelo was a primary architect of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and the sole designer of its dome. From 1508 to 1512, he painted what would become his most famous work, the ceiling frescoes of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. The frescoes include “The Creation of Adam,” in which God’s finger stretches out to give Adam life. These murals are considered the most magnificent and spiritual art of the Roman Catholic Church.

 

A lover of male beauty, Michelangelo’s lyrical poetry described his same sex-affection. He wrote: 

 

            The flesh now earth, and here my bones,

            Bereft of handsome eyes, and jaunty air,

            Still loyal are to him I joyed in bed,

            Whom I embraced, in whom my soul now lives

 

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