Friday, August 3, 2012

Chapter Two of Naked Man With Naked Man

Same-Sex Unions and the Church

In the beginning there was Jesus, but who or what was Jesus? There are more cockamamie theories about this guy than you can shake a stick at. Everyone it seems has a new angle on the old story which became the foundation of western civilization. In the contemporary age, we've almost come to expect the ‘shocking’ book about Jesus which comes out in the lead up to Easter. It's now almost impossible to keep track of all the sensational theories.

Previous blockbusters include ‘Jesus the Galilean peasant,’ ‘Jesus the rabbi,’ ‘Jesus the revolutionary,’ ‘Jesus the magician,’ ‘Jesus the pacifist,’ ‘Jesus the Cynic,’ ‘Jesus the Jew,’ ‘Jesus the Gentile,’ ‘Jesus the Buddhist,’ ‘Jesus the hermaphrodite,’ ‘Jesus the sage,’ ‘Jesus the Essene,’ ‘Jesus the Pharisee,’ ‘Jesus the king,’ ‘Jesus the socialist’ and of course ‘Jesus Christ.’ Of course the real question now is how could all these personalities fit into one historical person?

The presence of so many wacky theories in the marketplace, each shouting their claims with ever greater vehemence, only serves to strengthen the traditional American image of Jesus Christ even more. Indeed the United States is the breeding ground for wacky theories about Jesus. In hindsight it almost seems that the first colonists came over to the New World not so much to escape religious persecution but to establish ever more ridiculous forms of religious innovation in the New World. The traditional Jesus of the Roman Empire isn't even recognizable over here any longer.

Those claiming to be 'conservatives' in this great country are usually the most abominable heretics imaginable - at least from the perspective of the actual history of the Church. It is often difficult to believe that they actually accept one tenth of the stupidity they promote. It is as if people here no longer even know what religious orthodoxy even is any longer. ‘Making up shit’ has become the new normal. As the ubiquitous ‘Jesus is _________’ campaign spells it out on its website: Jesus is a lot of things, but the answer is in the Bible. It says that Jesus is the Son of God, who came to earth on a mission to restore mankind to God. By living a perfect life, dying on a cross, and coming back to life, His mission was a success. We can know God because of Jesus. So maybe the reality of who Jesus is remains too big for the blank.

Apparently Jesus can be whoever or whatever you want him to be, except that he can't be understood to identify anything related to homosexuality. This even though he apparently never got married and apparently didn’t find women sexually attractive. Of course, we needn’t go down this dangerous road. The Jesus that appears in the Mark’s narrative is little more literary device than man. According to this evangelist’s mystic text he is God come down to earth for the purpose of the salvation of man – this message unveiled in a narrative is clearly and deliberately developed from the Book of Exodus. As such it is not surprising that the salvation message of Mark’s Jesus should be expressed through the hope of two men united in a mystical union. The blueprint for this salvation is found in Exodus chapter 3 where Moses and Aaron are made brothers immediately following the revelation of the burning bush.

Of course it is utterly unthinkable for most Americans to even consider that Jesus might have had a positive attitude toward same sex attraction – let alone same sex unions. Yet the discovery of the Letter to Theodore at Mar Saba paves the way for this understanding, as well as contemporary research into the structure of the gospel of Mark. Let us also say on a more personal level that salvation has to make sense and what is more sensible than suggesting that the most fundamental principle of the Christian religion is that of communion – not merely between man and God but also that very same mystical drama played out in the longing of two souls to become one.

In order to understand how the concept of ‘brotherly love’ might be the basis for the salvation message of Mark’s secret gospel we have to remind ourselves of the gnostic tradition in Egypt and Alexandria especially. According to this very early Christian school of thought, Jesus was understood not only to be a God rather than a man but wholly focused on establishing ‘angelic unions’ among a spiritual portion of humanity. The evidence for the importance of this concept in contemporary Christian thought is found in many sources including many of the scrolls found in jars from the fourth century buried outside of the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi.

Of course when American evangelicals ‘defend’ the concept of ‘Christian marriage’ they go back to an inherited assumption that it has ‘always about the union of a man and a woman.’ Yet this is plainly wrong to even the most basic reading of the gospel. The model that Jesus presents first in the gospel of Mark is that of the union of angels where Jesus points out that “when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” It is interesting that these words can be read as prophetic testimony of what will eventually transpire in the gospel – namely the resurrection of a particular unnamed disciple and his union with Jesus after the angels in heaven.

This is Jesus’s only statement on Christian marriage and – when read from the perspective of the secret gospel of Mark – it is clearly a rejection of the traditional religious value of heterosexual union. After all, there are no female angels in heaven according to the traditional Jewish understanding which influenced Christianity. This is reinforced by Hippolytus in the third century when he notes that “some things which multiply by generation He formed male and female; but whatsoever beings were designed for service and ministration He [God] made either male, or not requiring females, or neither male nor female … I confess that angels are made of fire, and I maintain that female spirits are not present with them.” Of course life forms on earth were originally created male and female, but clearly the salvation that comes through Jesus is modeled after the union of angels in heaven, which are either male-male unions or yokes which do not include female members.

The bottom line is that the arguments used by religious bigots in favor of heterosexual marriage are contradicted by what Jesus actually says about the union he was introducing to the world. After all traditional marriage did not achieve the promise of restoring a divided Adam to his original glory. According to the earliest exegesis of the gospel opposite sex attraction was a trap established by the devil to facilitate production of broken souls and divided people in the world. While there are some historians who will argue that this supposedly 'radical' interpretation was limited to the groups outside the mainstream in early Christianity. A close examination of the evidence actually contradicts this assumption.

It becomes very plain that from the beginning of the Church there were two sets of rules with respect to marriage – one for each class of people within the body of Christ. There were clear differences with respect to what was practiced by the so-called ‘animal portion’ of the Church and that which given to the spiritual elite. In fact we see over and over again in the earliest Christian writings the idea that the catechumens - i.e. those undergoing the initiation into the sacraments of the Church – are a special class of people who long for union with Christ over traditional marriage. This argument appears in various forms in countless early writers of various denominations, almost none of whom can ever be demonstrated to have been married to a woman.

Yet what often goes unsaid in these discussions of the choice between ‘marriage to a woman’ and ‘union with Christ’ is that Jesus is manifested to the baptized by means of his brotherly companion. It wasn’t as if we had a community of men all wandering off in to the wilderness by themselves pretending that they were partnered with an imaginary friend. As we shall demonstrate over and over again throughout the discussion that follows – two males united in a spiritual yoke were taught to see each other as Christ. There was nothing imaginary about this salvation or this love. ‘Christ’ was the guy you were holding hands with in church. You looked in his eyes to feel ‘spiritual love’ in the same way you inspired him to seek salvation.

Just as Moses and Aaron are implausibly introduced as brothers after the flesh in the Book of Exodus, it is impossible not to do a double take at the number of paired disciples in the gospel. Beyond Peter and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Peter and Paul there is Jesus sending out his male disciples in pairs. Where do we find similar examples of married saints in earliest Christianity? The example of St Peter is meaningless as he is generally assumed to have left his wife behind to follow Jesus.

The number of married Christians is extremely small and they all represent a certain ‘type’ within the ecclesiastical structure – i.e. the rich patron who was treated exceptionally because of his ‘generosity’ to the Church. The earliest examples of this type of phenomenon appear in the third century. The Church Father Tertullian of Carthage was married but isn't recognized as a saint. The same is true with respect to Origen’s patron Ambrose of Tyre. By contrast we see that in the earliest period of Christianity, almost all leaders in the Church paired with other males and were praised for their impassibility (or in Greek apathia) or if you will - that they were 'unmoved' - by the seductive charm of women.

A typical example is the story of the third century Church Father Gregory the Wonder Worker which appears in the Life of the saint composed by Gregory of Nyssa. We are told that while engaged in a philosophical discussion in Alexandria, a prostitute came forward accusing Gregory of not paying for their recent tryst. We hear that when Gregory “learned from the prostitute how much money she was asking from him, he readily counted it all out, and the plot of the licentious against the wise one came to an end, and the slut's reward was already in her hands.” The narrative continues – “at that moment there came from God a testimony to the young man's discretion, and the refutation of the false charge made by his peers. For as she received the money in her hands she was racked by a demonic spirit, wailed in a loud, inhuman, animal cry and fell face down in the midst of the gathering; an awful and fearful sight to those present, her hair wildly disheveled and torn out by her own hands, her eyes rolled back into her head, and her mouth dribbling foam. And the demon which was choking her did not cease till that Great One had called upon God and interceded for her.”

The point of the narrative of course is that Gregory was incapable of having sex with women. He was a pure spiritual eunuch who would never marry, a 'virgin' until the day he died and certainly not one to consort with prostitutes. This is the inevitable context of all the early hagiographies. The saints not only don't have sex with women, they can't have sex with women because of their inherently 'spiritual' nature. This understanding is even more prevalent in the legendary ‘Acts’ associated with the first disciples of Jesus.

In the wildly popular Acts of John, the disciple of the Lord written in the second century by a certain ‘Leucius Charinus,’ it is evidence by a number of attacks against the female sex and marriage. For instance the prayer of thanksgiving to God given by John before his death begins: "O Lord, thou who from my infancy until this age has preserved me untouched by woman, thou who hast kept my body from them so that the mere sight of a woman excites abhorrence in me." The third or fourth century commentator who preserves these words of the lost Acts of Jesus cannot control himself after citing this saying of Jesus echoing the disciple’s low estimation of the female sex by exclaiming in what follow "O gift of God, to remain untouched by the influence of women! By the grace of this holy state thou canst love what is abominable to the flesh."

Indeed it isn’t just in this one spurious historical narrative that this logic is demonstrated. Christians always paid attention to the fact that Moses was forced to a lengthy abstention from having contact with a woman before being granted access to God on Mount Sinai. This becomes the paradigm of sorts for the holy life only that early Christianity sought to make this a permanent state for its ‘spiritual elite.’ The early Church Fathers similarly reference signs of asceticism among the Jewish patriarchs and prophets. Jacob was castrated by the angel, Joseph was a eunuch, Joshua was a virgin, the prophet Daniel was castrated and on and on the list goes.

The early Christian saints in essence become little more the further refinement of the example of the ancient Jewish holy men. This of course because again Jesus was the divine being who visited and prepared them for earthly communion. In the very same Acts of John there is a funny story where it is said that some unlucky bride and groom had the misfortune of allowing John to come to their wedding and make a toast. The ultimate party crasher proceeds to ruin their special day with the proclamation:

Little children, whilst your flesh is still pure and you have a body that is still untouched and are not in a state of moral corruption and are not besmirched by Satan, the extremely hostile and shameless opponent of chastity, understand in fuller measure the mystery of the matrimonial association: it is an attempt of the serpent, ignorance of doctrine, violence done to the seed, a gift of death, an office of destruction, instruction in division, an office of moral corruption, a tarrying distraction, a sowing between them of the enemy, an ambush of Satan, a device of the malevolent one, dirty fruit of birth, a shedding of blood, a passion of the heart, a desertion of reason, the earnest of punishment, a deed of torment, a work of fire, a sign of the enemy, the deadly malice of eagerness, a kiss of deceit, an association in bitterness, an excitement of the heart, an invention of corruption, a craving for a phantom, a worldly course of life, the devil’s stage-play, an enemy of life, a fetter of darkness, intoxication of the mind, mockery by the enemy, a stumbling-block to life which separates from the Lord, a beginning of disobedience, the end of life, and death. Hearing this, little children, bind yourselves each one in an inseparable, true and holy marriage whilst ye await the one incomparable and true bridegroom from heaven, Christ the eternal bridegroom.

This theme of 'apostle as rude wedding guest' was extremely popular in early antiquity.  It ran through all of the second century Acts of the various apostles of Jesus.

We read that the apostle Judas Thomas had frequent attempts made on his life owing to the influence he had the wives of rich men - apparently encouraging them to stop sleeping with their husbands. The Acts of Andrew makes reference to Andrew coming to a wedding to "show the glory of God" by “separating the spouses intended for one another, the women and the men, and taught them to remain holy in celibacy."  The point of this exercise is to demonstrate to people who come into a discussion of ‘Christian values’ from an American evangelical perspective that things are not as straight as they might.

It is impossible to argue that Jesus was ‘for’ heterosexual love and ‘against’ same sex attraction. There was at one time a revolutionary message about salvation which is now essentially unknown to Protestant Christians. This is not the place to debate how a complete reinvention of Christianity by Luther and wannabe Luthers of every successive generation since the Reformation has any religious authority to make the pronouncements they do. As historians however the only issue that matters is what the earliest Christians practiced and believed.

To this end one of the most important – and ultimately ignored - resources to help rediscover the original hostility towards heterosexuality in the early Church is the so called apocryphal Epistle of Titus. This text, which survives as an eighth century Latin copy of a much earlier but now lost Greek original literally takes us into a Christian community which lived by the radical message of the ancient apostolic narratives. Indeed the Epistle of Titus from beginning to end reinforces the view that there is only path for the true believer – and this begins with the complete renunciation of marriage and the heterosexual lifestyle.

The author’s main purpose is to denounce those who have compromised this state demonstrated by the lives of the apostles. Men are not supposed to be joined to women but other men. Indeed for 'Titus' there are two only classes of people within the ascetic community. The text defines 'spadones' or eunuchs as the living embodiment of the 'angelic hosts' or even Christ. Their proper consorts are called the virgins (Lat. virgines) who are males and who lack the perfection of the spadones and so continue to have strong desires to be with other 'carnal men' and are admonished by the author because of it.

'Titus' repeats over and over again that Christ came to earth to establish the 'spiritual marriage' of angels between the virgines and the spadones. The purpose of his epistle is twofold - to warn the 'virgins' not to leave their union with 'the eunuchs' and implore the 'eunuchs' to stop 'looking back' with longing for women. Indeed according to the author, with the coming of Jesus "the separation of man and woman is ordered." The author warns the eunuchs not to take women as “servants” or partners with the one exception being their own sisters. As the author notes "If Elisha served in the house of Elias to comply with the rule of propriety and the boy Gehazi assisted the prophet Elisha as Baruch the prophet Jeremiah in order to leave us an instructive remembrance, why does a man take a woman as servant under a semblance of holiness? If it is a matter of a close relative, then that will do; but not if she is a strange woman. After the flood, the sons of Noah looked for places for themselves where they might build cities, and they named them after their wives. Precisely so do these men now behave who are united to women."

The eunuch must then be united only to a male virgin. This according to the author of Titus is the very command of Christ:

To bear the yoke is then to observe God’s order. And in conclusion the Lord says: Take my yoke upon you. And further, ‘in his youth’ means in his hope. Thus he has commanded that salvation be preserved in solitary unmarried state, so that each one of you may remain as a solitary tower according to the saying of the Evangelist that house should not remain upon house, but should come down at once. Why then, O man, dost thou make haste to build you a ruin upon a strange house and thus to occasion not only your own destruction but also that of the bride of Christ who is united to you?

We should notice of course that the eunuch is already said to have a male 'bride of Christ' united to him. He is strictly forbidden by Titus to go outside of that relationship. They are to be 'solitary' together as one unity.

The term 'yoke' here goes back to the Greek word syzygia which will keep resurfacing over the course of our discussion. Syzygia can be translated yoke, pair, ‘union of two’ or conjunction. It literally comes from the idea of two things being bound together by a rope – after the manner in which farmers tied together cattle to harness their combined physical strength. As we have already noted the mystical understanding of the all-male syzygy on earth originates from the pairing of angelic in heaven. The earliest Christians believed that in heaven there were a number of such ‘pairs’ which originated from the primal syzygy of the Father and the Son.

For those who find it strange that a eunuch should be understood to have been the 'male' in the relationship rather than the female, we should always go back to the common understanding of the highest God being depicted as a hermaphrodite. While this traditional interpretation is common to Judaism as well as Christianity it likely goes back to the most primitive myths of the castration of El in Semitic lore or perhaps even that of Ammon in the Egyptian tradition. The eunuch has made himself after the image of the highest God. He communes with the virgin as 'one soul' in two bodies after the example of the pairing of Father and Son. Yet it is also at the same time often depicted as representing the functioning of the inner working of the human soul with the Father representing ‘mind’ or nous in Greek and the Son ‘word’ or ‘logic’ which in Greek again is logos.

The ancients didn’t simply believe we had something called ‘consciousness.’ Our brain was understood to function by means of the ‘yoking together’ of mind and word. The first century Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria goes into great lengths about how it was necessary that the two cooperated together in order to give man his special abilities among the created beings. It would not be good for nous to remain divided from logos or vice versa. In order to have man emerge as the ruler of the animals a mystical synergy had to be created between these two male entities which for early Christians as noted became the basis for their justification of same sex partnerships.

For those who still can't conceive of how a eunuch could be conceived of as the more 'manly' part of this pairing it should be noted that castration has little to do with effeminacy. Some of the greatest generals in history were eunuchs. The classic image of the eunuch who guards the harem of a powerful sultan but this very understanding goes back to ancient times. Eunuch comes from the Greek eunoukhos, originally meaning "guard of the bedchamber or harem," from eune, "bed," + -ekhein, "to have, hold." It simply wouldn't make sense to have an effeminate in charge of the most prized possession of a king or an earthly ruler.

Eunuchs were manly especially in the Christian tradition. Matthew Kuefler has recently written a book on the subject entitled The Manly Eunuch: Masculinity, Gender Ambiguity, and Christian Ideology in Late Antiquity. Kuefler traces the development and transformation of notions of masculinity from the early Roman Empire to late antiquity noting that Christianity was able to offer a new and even surprising ideology of masculinity through the idealizing of the eunuch. He notes that Christians transformed celibacy an act of manliness. He offers forty-fix pages of evidence to make this point. He writes, “[Christians] turned male sexual renunciation into a heroic act and created an intellectual environment in which men might abandon sex and its dangers without jeopardizing their masculine identity.” To this end "the eunuch served as a symbol not only of the dangers of traditional Roman masculinity but also of its Christian transformation."

These 'eunuchs' were said to be imitating Jesus's example insofar as Jesus was himself an angel - i.e. one who did not have sexual organs. As the third century Greek Church Father Methodius explains, Jesus came to help those “whom He no longer wills to be excited by procreations to lust, and to be defiled, but henceforth to meditate and to keep the mind upon the transformation of the body to the likeness of angels, when they neither marry nor are given in marriage, according to the infallible words of the Lord; since it is not given to all to attain that undefiled state of being a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, but manifestly to those only who are able to preserve the ever-blooming and unfading flower of virginity." We should pay close attention to the two classes of people that first appeared in the Epistle of Titus and again resurface in the writings of Methodius.

The 'eunuchs' not only preserve the 'virgins' but prepare their way to become eunuchs in their own right. In other words, they castrate themselves. There can be no doubt that the union of eunuchs and virgins was always a ‘yoke’ between members of the same sex (the specific terminology ‘marriage’ was generally eschewed for spiritual relationships). Indeed despite some small differences in interpretation, the same use of terminology can be demonstrated to have existed in many different Christian communities.

The third century Latin Church Father Tertullian makes reference to a heretical union "between alien eunuchs and your own grooms." However Tertullian’s Christian community distinguished itself from earlier forms of the religion by its toleration of heterosexual marriage. The Valentinians were another sect which condoned opposite sex unions. Nevertheless in either of these communities it is clear that this acceptance of traditional forms of marriage was an innovation laid on top of the radical formulation of same-sex angelic syzygies.

Tertullian continues preserve the original understanding that both Jesus and Paul were eunuchs. As we read in one of his treatises - “the Lord Himself opens ‘the kingdoms of the heavens’ to ‘eunuchs,’ as being Himself, withal, a eunuch; to whom looking, the apostle also-himself too for this reason being castrated -gives the preference to continence." Tertullian provides the reader with a most important testimony that in earliest Church there were only same-sex marriages. The Latin Church Father acknowledges that his spiritual teacher, 'Montanus the Paraclete' introduced a new rule which allowed men the option of keeping a wife. In no uncertain terms this was not understood by Tertullian to be a pre-existent ‘rule.’ Indeed Tertullian notes that only recently 'the virgins' were presented with a choice of direction for their spiritual path. He advocates:

presenting to your weakness the gift of the example of Jesus’s own (castrated) flesh, the more perfect Adam - that is, Christ, more perfect on this account as well (as on others), that He was more entirely pure----stands before you, if you are willing (to copy Him), as a voluntary eunuch in the flesh. If, however, you are unequal (to that perfection), he stands before you a monogamist in spirit, having one Church as His spouse, according to the figure of Adam and of Eve.

It goes without saying that Tertullian's teacher, Montanus was also a eunuch. Yet the important thing that often gets overlooked here is that our notion of the Christian coupling of ‘guys and girls’ is a late innovation – even by those who advocated its acceptability. Heterosexuality invaded Christianity from the margins. It was originally about another kind of union between transformed males.

In former days, by Tertullian’s own admission, there was only the path to perfection through same sex union and self-castration. While Tertullian also makes disparaging references to the heretics "castrating themselves like beavers" (a clever pun in Latin - castrator carnis castor) there is no shaking the fact that his Church and all its doctrines came after these same castrating beavers. In fact two generations before Tertullian we see the Church Father Justin Martyr cites with approval the story of a young man who sought approval from the governor to get castrated to demonstrate ‘manly virtue’ to the pagans.

Justin tells his audience that Christian virtue is defined by a rejection of heterosexual relations and often times a radical embracing of surgery. As he notes:

we decline marriage, we live continently. And that you may understand that promiscuous intercourse is not one of our mysteries, one of our number a short time ago presented to Felix the governor in Alexandria a petition, craving that permission might be given to a surgeon to make him an eunuch. For the surgeons there said that they were forbidden to do this without the permission of the governor. And when Felix absolutely refused to sign such a permission, the youth remained single, and was satisfied with his own approving conscience, and the approval of those who thought as he did.

One can make a very convincing argument that castration was present in Christianity from the very beginning. It only became controversial owing to an Imperial ban on the practice in the early second century which was connected to Palestinian sectarian strife.

If we were to make a list of figures within earliest Christianity who are said to have been eunuchs, it would leave the reader wondering who wasn't castrated in the tradition. Indeed Christians didn’t seem to think that what they were suggesting was at all that unprecedented. After all Jacob was castrated by the angel as a sign for future generations. So too did they take an especial interest in the prophet Daniel whom they were convinced was similarly made like 'one of them’ according to divine Providence.

Nevertheless it has to be acknowledged that our information about the first hundred and fifty years of Christianity is utterly sketchy. We don’t have a great deal of information about individual ‘eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven’ until the famous – some would say infamous – example of Origen of Alexandria. As such we will have to begin our story about this ‘kingdom of eunuchs’ at the very point the tradition became subject to suspicion within the Church especially among leaders in Rome. At the very point the eunuch Origen is introduced to us – the last in a long line of Alexandrian castrati – it is done within the context of a ‘hostile takeover’ in Alexandria, and no one should be surprised that all the ‘bad guys’ in this story are straight ...

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