Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century

Article excerpt

Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century. By John Boswell. Thirty-Fifth Anniversary Edition; Foreword by Mark D. Jordan. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015, Pp. xxvi, 424. $29.00, paper.)

Even though gay marriage is now the law of the land and a majority of Americans support employment and civil rights for LBGTQIA persons, our national rhetoric, many religious bodies, and significant numbers of our citizenry continue to condemn same-sex relationships, often based on religious arguments. Thirty-five years after its original publication in 1980, John Boswell's monumental work remains current, timely and erudite. Negative reviews of the book and its author (who died of AIDS complications in 1994) appeared at the time of the book's publication, even while it was lauded throughout the gay community and won the National Book Award in 1981. One commentator complained that, because Boswell was a "believer" (that is, a devout Roman Catholic), his goal of trying to exonerate "Mother Church" from its oppression of homosexual men was "fatally flawed" (despite noting that the book was "a formidable work of scholarship"). Another reviewer stated that Boswell "gives no psychological dimension" to his investigation and projects himself "grotesquely" into a time and place in the past. More recently, New Testament scholar Bernadette Brooten, in her masterful work, Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), takes issue with Boswell at a number of points and is probably the most responsible critic of some of his arguments.

These critiques do not dim the monumentality of Boswell's research on church history, Christianity's social context, the nature of same-sex attraction (especially between men), and the interplay between politics and religion. Boswell's phenomenal command of ancient terminology and literature enabled him to translate and interpret texts by emperors, bishops, poets, church fathers, and ancient authors. While it might seem to us, who have lived for decades with Christian pronouncements against homosexuality, that the church has always condemned same-sex relations, Boswell presents dozens of examples showing that, until late in the Middle Ages, same-sex love was, instead, commonplace, open, and often celebrated. …

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