The holy Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev was the first bishop to be tortured and slain by the Communists at the time of the Russian Revolution.
Basil Nikephorovich Bogoyavlensky was born in the province of Tambov of pious parents on January 1, 1848. His father, a priest, was later murdered. The young Basil graduated from the Theological Academy in Kiev in 1874, and taught in the Tambov seminary for seven years before he was ordained to the holy priesthood.
His wife died in 1886, and their only child died shortly thereafter. The bereaved widower entered the Kozlov Monastery in Tambov and was given the name Vladimir. In 1888 he was consecrated bishop of Staraya Rus, and served as a vicar bishop of the Novgorod diocese. In 1891 he was assigned to the diocese of Samara. In those days people of his diocese suffered from a cholera epidemic and a crop failure. Bishop Vladimir devoted himself to caring for the sick and suffering, inspiring others to follow his example.
In 1892 he became Archbishop of Kartalin and Kahetin, then in 1898 he was chosen as Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomna. He served fifteen years in this position.
Metropolitan Vladimir was distinguished by his compassion for the poor, and for widows and orphans. He also tried to help alcoholics and those who had abandoned the Church. The Metropolitan was also interested in the education of children in school, especially those who were studying in the theological schools.
In 1912, after the death of Metropolitan Anthony, he was appointed Metropolitan of Petrograd, administering that diocese until 1915. Because he disapproved of Rasputin, Metropolitan Vladimir fell out of favor with the Tsar, and so he was transferred to Kiev. On November 5, 1917 he announced that St Tikhon (April 7) had been elected as Patriarch of Moscow.
The "Ukrainian Congress" was also calling for an autonomous Ukraine and for the creation of a Ukrainian Church independent from the Church of Russia. Metropolitan Vladimir suffered and grieved because of this question, warning that such a division in the Church would allow its enemies to be victorious. However, at the end of 1917, a Ukrainian Dominion was formed, and also a separate Ukrainian church administration ("rada") led by the retired Archbishop Alexis Dorodnitzin. This uncanonical group forbade the commemoration of Patriarch Tikhon during church services, and demanded that Metropolitan Vladimir leave Kiev.
In January 1918 the civil war came to Kiev, and the two forces vied for control of the city. Many churches and monasteries were damaged by the cannon fire. The Bolsheviks seized the Kiev Caves Lavra on January 23, and soldiers broke into the churches. Monks were taken out into the courtyard to be stripped and beaten. At six thirty on the night of January 25, five armed soldiers and a sailor came looking for Metropolitan Vladimir. The seventy-year-old hierarch was tortured and choked in his bedroom with the chain of his cross. The ruffians tortured the Metropolitan and demanded money.
When they emerged, the Metropolitan's cell attendant approached and asked for a blessing. The sailor pushed him aside and told him, "Enough bowing to these blood-drinkers. No more of it." After blessing and kissing him, the Metropolitan said, "Good-bye, Philip." Then he walked calmly with his executioners, just as if he were on his way to serve the Liturgy.
Metropolitan Vladimir was driven from the monastery to the place of execution. As they got out of the car, the holy martyr asked, "Do you intend to shoot me here?"
"Why not?" they replied.
After praying for a short time and asking forgiveness for his sins, Metropolitan Vladimir blessed the executioners, saying, "May God forgive you." Then several rifle shots were heard.
In the morning, some women came to the gates of the Lavra and told the monks where the Metropolitan's body could be found. He was lying on his back, with bullet wounds near his right eye and by his right collarbone. There were also several cuts and gashes on the body, including a very deep chest wound. The hieromartyr was carried into the Lavra church of St Michael, where he had spent his last days at prayer.
In Moscow, the All-Russian Church Council was in session when word came of Metropolitan Vladimir's death. Patriarch Tikhon and his clergy performed a Memorial Service for the New Martyr Vladimir. A commission was formed to investigate the circumstances of Metropolitan Vladimir's murder, but it was unable to carry out its duties because of the Revolution. The Council decided that January 25, the day of his death, would be set aside for the annual commemoration of all of Russia's martyrs and confessors killed by the Soviets.
The holy New Martyr Vladimir of Kiev was glorified by the Orthodox Church of Russia in 1992. On the Sunday closest to January 25 (the day of Metropolitan Vladimir's martyrdom) we also observe the Synaxis of Russia's New Martyrs and Confessors.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
The holy Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev was the first bishop to be tortured and slain by the Communists at the time of the Russian Revolution.
This great Father and Teacher of the Church was born in 329 in Arianzus, a village of the second district of Cappadocia, not far from Nazianzus. His father, who later became Bishop of Nazianzus, was named Gregory (commemorated Jan. 1), and his mother was named Nonna (Aug. 5); both are among the Saints, and so are his brother Caesarius (Mar. 9) and his sister Gorgona (Feb. 23). At first he studied in Caesarea of Palestine, then in Alexandria, and finally in Athens. As he was sailing from Alexandria to Athens, a violent sea storm put in peril not only his life but also his salvation, since he had not yet been baptized. With tears and fervour he besought God to spare him, vowing to dedicate his whole self to Him, and the tempest gave way to calm. At Athens Saint Gregory was later joined by Saint Basil the Great, whom he already knew; but now their acquaintanceship grew into a lifelong brotherly love. Another fellow student of theirs in Athens was the young Prince Julian, who later as Emperor was called the Apostate because he denied Christ and did all in his power to restore paganism. Even in Athens, before Julian had thrown off the mask of piety; Saint Gregory saw what an unsettled mind he had, and said, "What an evil the Roman State is nourishing" (Orat. V, 24, PG 35:693).
After their studies at Athens, Gregory became Basil's fellow ascetic, living the monastic life together with him for a time in the hermitages of Pontus. His father ordained him presbyter of the Church of Nazianzus, and Saint Basil consecrated him Bishop of Sasima (or Zansima), which was in the archdiocese of Caesarea. This consecration was a source of great sorrow to Gregory, and a cause of misunderstanding between him and Basil; but his love for Basil remained unchanged, as can be plainly seen from his Funeral Oration on Saint Basil (Orat. XLIII).
About the Year 379, Saint Gregory came to the assistance of the Church of Constantinople, which had already been troubled for forty years by the Arians; by his supremely wise words and many labours he freed it from the corruption of heresy, and was elected Archbishop of that city by the Second Ecumenical Council, which assembled there in 381, and condemned Macedonius, Archbishop of Constantinople, the enemy of the Holy Spirit. When Saint Gregory came to Constantinople, the Arians had taken all the churches and he was forced to serve in a house chapel dedicated to Saint Anastasia the Martyr. From there he began to preach his famous five sermons on the Trinity, called the Triadica. When he left Constantinople two years later, the Arians did not have one church left to them in the city. Saint Meletius of Antioch (see Feb. 12), who was presiding over the Second Ecumenical Council, died in the course of it, and Saint Gregory was chosen in his stead; there he distinguished himself in his expositions of dogmatic theology.
Having governed the Church until 382, he delivered his farewell speech - the Syntacterion, in which he demonstrated the Divinity of the Son - before 150 bishops and the Emperor Theodosius the Great; in this speech he requested, and received from all, permission to retire from the see of Constantinople. He returned to Nazianzus, where he lived to the end of his life, and reposed in the Lord in 391, having lived some sixty-two years.
His extant writings, both prose and poems in every type of metre, demonstrate his lofty eloquence and his wondrous breadth of learning. In the beauty of his writings, he is considered to have surpassed the Greek writers of antiquity, and because of his God-inspired theological thought, he received the surname "Theologian." Although he is sometimes called Gregory of Nazianzus, this title belongs properly to his father; he himself is known by the Church only as Gregory the Theologian. He is especially called "Trinitarian Theologian," since in virtually every homily he refers to the Trinity and the one essence and nature of the Godhead. Hence, Alexius Anthorus dedicated the following verses to him:
Like an unwandering star beaming with splendour,
Thou bringest us by mystic teachings, O Father,
To the Trinity's sunlike illumination,
O mouth breathing with fire, Gregory most mighty.
Apolytikion in the First Tone
The shepherd's pipe of thy theology conquered the trumpets of the philosophers; for since thou didst search out the depths of the Spirit, beauty of speech was added to thee. But intercede with Christ God, O Father Gregory, that our souls be saved.
Kontakion in the Third Tone
O Glorious One, you dispelled the complexities of orators with the words of your theology. You have adorned the Church with the vesture of Orthodoxy woven from on high. Clothed in this, the Church now cries out to your children, with us, "Hail Father, the consummate theological mind."
Reading (c) Holy Transfiguration Monastery - Brookline, MA
On the morning of January 15th the Emeritus Professor of Theology at the University of Athens Stylianos Papadopoulos reposed. His funeral was held that day at the University Church of Kapnikarea in Athens and afterwards transferred to Docheiareiou Monastery on Mount Athos, where his son and a nephew are monks, to be buried on January 16th. He also was tonsured a monk towards the end of his life and went by the name of Gerasimos.
Professor Stylianos was probably most well-known to English-speakers for his biography about Elder Iakovos Tsalikes, whom he knew personally, and for writing about his well-known uncle Bishop Gerasimos (Papadopoulos) of Abydos (+ June 12, 1995) who taught and resided at Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology and for whom his nephew gave an eloquent sermon at his funeral at Holy Cross Chapel. Bishop Gerasimos also was an Athonite monk prior to his becoming bishop in the United States.
Stylianos G. Papadopoulos was born in ancient Cleones of Corinth in 1933 and studied Theology at the University of Athens, Patrology and Byzantine Studies at Sorbonne (Paris), and Byzantine theology and literature as well as the history of philosophy at Munich. He published a number of studies and monographs on Scholastic theology in Byzantium, as well as for the great Church Fathers Athanasius, Basil, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria.
He graduated with a Ph.D. from the Theological School of Athens (1967), and became lecturer and professor (1972) for the seat of Patrology and Patristic theology and taught at other higher institutions.
He published a systematic treatment on Patrology (2 volumes), published theological-philosophical studies on contemporary issues (such as theology and language), wrote narrative biographies, organized conferences (locally and abroad), took part in international conferences, represented the Patriarchate of Alexandria in inter-Orthodox, inter-Church and inter-Christian dialogues and conferences, was invited to lecture among university theological faculties in Italy, Russia, England, Czech Republic, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Lebanon, Slovakia, Poland and Egypt, and continued as professor emeritus until the end of his life teaching patristic theology and related research.
Gerasimos Papadopoulos: Bishop of Abydos, The Wise Abba of America
The Garden of the Holy Spirit: Elder Iakovos of Evia
The Holy Trinity and the Parousia of the Holy Spirit According to St. John Chrysostom
Η ενότητα της Εκκλησίας
Έννοια, σημασία και κύρος του Πατρός και Διδασκάλου
Thomas in Byzanz
Beitrag zur Theologie der Einheit
"Ο δάσκαλος μου Πατρολόγος Στυλιανός Παπαδόπουλος"
January 25, 2012
In a throwback to medieval times, a regional official in Kazakhstan was included in a fresco of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that adorns a local Orthodox Christian church.
A striking likeness of Sergei Kulagin – former akim, or governor, of the Kostanai region – is found among the crowd of Jews welcoming Jesus in the freshly painted fresco above the church altar in city of Rudny, some 550 kilometers west of the capital, Astana.
Kulagin is the only one with a clean shave in the crowd, and faces the audience, not Jesus, according to photos of the fresco published by prominent priest Andrei Kurayev on his Livejournal blog.
Visages of patrons can be included in church decorations, but only near the exit and never above the altar, and also not in an icon that is based on an alleged historical event, Kurayev told RIA Novosti on Wednesday.
“It’s plain hubris to have yourself included in canonical Biblical iconography,” Kurayev said by telephone.
Kulagin, who is now a senator, did not comment on the story. Spokeswoman of the local diocese, Marina Korolyova, said the local bishop was on a trip to Moscow and would not be able to comment until February, local news web site Time.kz reported Wednesday.
Though the practice of depicting real people in frescoes was typical in the Middle Ages, it did not completely disappear in modern times. Among prominent figures commemorated that way in Orthodox churches were former Saratov Governor Dmitry Ayatskov and even current head of the Russian church, Partiarch Kirill, who was depicted with a saint’s halo in a Nizhny Novgorod region fresco by overzealous priests shortly after his enthronement in 2009.
Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev is a modest man, and will likely order Kulagin to have the fresco painted over at Kulagin’s own expense, Kurayev said.
The bill is likely to come to several thousand dollars, he added.
The artists, who came from the Russian town of Palekh, a traditional center of icon painting, might have also covertly satirized Kulagin in the fresco by situating him where Christ’s bane Pontius Pilate was supposed to stand, Kurayev wrote on his blog.
“This means we’ve a show of hypocrisy: the authorities who pretend to be benevolent to the Church are actually preparing the Crucifixion,” Kurayev wrote, adding that Palekh artists were “witty guys.”
Sunday, January 22, 2012
By Hieromonk Tikhon, Abbot of Stavronikita Monastery
All that happens within the Divine Liturgy are not ideas, but they are a reality, an experience. Once we offer everything to God, He, humbly and philanthropically, sends us the Grace of His All-Holy Spirit and transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of His Son, really and truly, which He in turn offers back to us to receive it and to be sanctified by it, to become sharers of His Body, to savor the Grace of the Resurrection, to begin to live from now eternal life, the enjoyment of heavenly things.
The Divine Liturgy is a work to restore God's will in our life, and this work is performed by the priest and the faithful. All the believers are actively involved in the Divine Liturgy by being involved in the acts and words of the Divine Liturgy, as represented by the priest and the sacred chanters, since practically it is not possible any other way. It is characteristic that the Orthodox priest never celebrates the Divine Liturgy alone, individually, but only in service to the Church, as a leader and representative of the congregation of believers. For this reason he proclaims: "Thine own of Thine own..." and "The Holy Things for the Holy Ones"; and we say: "We who mystically iconize the Cherubim...", that is, in the plural. We all iconize the Cherubim, offering everything while glorifying God, accepting the Holy Things which are foreseen for the Holy Ones. The Divine Liturgy is a creation of all of us. It is the greatest creation of man which allows for the eternal meaning and salvation of life. Whoever feels and participates even a little in this truth and lives it, then he loves the Divine Liturgy more than anything in the world. In this he finds himself, God, and his salvation. He encounters truly his fellow man, loves everybody, and learns what is the meaning of creation and what is creations true value. He is freed from the slavery and oppression of the passions and the devil and acquires the freedom of the children of God.
On Mount Athos the Divine Liturgy is celebrated every day in the Monasteries following Matins. And even though we follow the same Divine Liturgy every day, we do not feel burdened, nor are we bored, nor do we tire of it. When someone lives the Divine Liturgy, its sacred words become a door which open to a personal encounter with a personal God, personal Truth. All our life becomes a prepared offering to God, conscious of our participation in the Divine Liturgy. It is also a glorification to God, and an effort and a struggle to be aware and participate throughout our life our personal experience and participation in the Theanthropic Body of the Savior. We liturgize our life and our life becomes a perpetual Divine Liturgy, which begins with the sacred Mystery of the Divine Eucharist and ends and is completed again with this. With the Divine Liturgy we offer to God all our thoughts, our acts, our struggles and our agonies, our fears and our hopes, everything that is ours, in order for Him to transform them and save them. The Divine Liturgy leads us and introduces us to the Land of the Living, to communion with the Holy Spirit, to the blessed Kingdom of the Holy Trinity.
When we are bored with the Divine Liturgy and it seems monotonous and tiresome to go every Sunday to church, it is not the liturgical language or something else that is to blame, but rather it is our ignorance of this philanthropic Mystery. How different it would be if we consciously participated in the Divine Liturgy as if it were a personal event in our lives!
Source: «Ή χώρα των ζώντων» (Αγ. Ορος 1991). Translated by John Sanidopoulos.
1. Red Tails (2012)
Story: A crew of African American pilots in the Tuskegee training program, having faced segregation while kept mostly on the ground during World War II, are called into duty under the guidance of Col. A.J. Bullard.
Director: Anthony Hemingway
Stars: Terrance Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Gerald McRaney
Review: Red Tails is a watered-down account of the plight and racial injustices faced by African Americans during World War II. It's watered-down because it doesn't go too far in revealing the racism that existed, and to make it more palatable for audiences it is entertaining and somewhat educational. It is a labor of love by George Lucas who funded the film from his own expenses and defended it for years when Hollywood was hesitant to make it. This fact-based story about the Tuskegee Airmen is significant and inspirational, yet it lacks the complexity necessary to make it a great film which it deserves. I would have liked to have seen more about the real-life struggles and fierce heroics of the Tuskegee Airmen.
2. Underworld: Awakening (2012)
Story: When human forces discover the existence of the Vampire and Lycan clans, a war to eradicate both species commences. The vampire warrioress Selene leads the battle against humankind.
Director: Måns Mårlind, Björn Stein
Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Michael Ealy and India Eisley
Review: Underworld: Awakening is the fourth installment in the Underworld film series, which is one of my favorite and most anticipated film series in recent years. I consider the Underworld series an antidote to the watered-down Vampires and Lycans (and gothic imagery) of the Twilight series. This latest film is probably the best in the series, and probably the goriest and most action-packed. If the original was like this one, it probably would have had more acclaim. When it was over it left me wanting more, but this is why it is such a great series. I was even surprised to hear the audience cheering and clapping in the theater. The film lacks the depth necessary to make it a lasting and great film, but if you want to enjoy a supernatural action thriller with a convincing and beautiful heroine while your brain is on auto-pilot, then this is the perfect film.
The world has many poor in spirit, but not in the right way; and many who mourn, but over money matters and loss of children; and many who are meek, but in the face of impure passions; and many who hunger and thirst, but to rob another's goods and to profit unjustly. And there are many who are merciful, but to the body and to its comforts; and clean of heart, but out of vanity; and peacemakers, but who subject the soul to the flesh; and many who suffer persecution, but because they are disorderly; many who are reproached, but for shameful sins. Instead, only those are blessed who do and suffer these things for Christ and following his example. For what reason? "Because theirs is the kingdom of heaven," and "they shall see God," and so forth. So that it is not because they do and suffer these things that they are blessed (since those just mentioned do the same), but because they do and suffer them for Christ and following his example.
- St. Maximus the Confessor, Four Hundred Chapters on Love, Third Century, #47
Saturday, January 21, 2012
The Church in St. Maximus' Mystagogy
The Problem and the Orthodox Perspective
From "Theology", no 1, 1985
Chapter 1 : Introduction
Chapter 2 : Saint Maximus' Mystagogy
Chapter 3 : The Church as the Eikon of God the Creator
Chapter 4 : The Church as the Eikon of the World
Chapter 5 : The Church as the Eikon of the Sensible World
Chapter 6 : The Church as the Eikon of Man
Chapter 7 : The Church as the Eikon of the Soul
Chapter 8 : The Bible as the Eikon of Man and the Church
Chapter 9 : The World, Man, and the Church
Chapter 10 : Epilogue
Friday, January 20, 2012
In the following discussion of the use of traditional languages in contemporary Orthodoxy, Sister S., a European Orthodox nun and experienced Greek-English translator, reflects with the editor of Road to Emmaus Orthodox magazine on the deep connection between holy language and an Orthodox worldview.
RTE: Sister, I’d like to begin with a quote from Gifts of the Desert in a discussion between the author, Dr. Kyriakos Markides, and a Cypriot abbot, Father Maximos (now Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol, Cyprus).
[Fr. Maximos begins:] “We must avoid addressing ourselves to God in a superficial casual way. For this reason Elder Sophrony goes so far as to say that the language we use in prayer must be different from the ordinary language of everyday usage. That is why he insisted that the language of the liturgy should not be translated into the contemporary spoken vernacular.”
“A lot of people today would strongly object to that suggestion,” I pointed out. “They demand that church services be conducted in the spoken ordinary language so that they can understand what is being said. Why did Elder Sophrony hold to such a position?”
“Elder Sophrony claimed that when we conduct the liturgy using everyday language, we lower the level of our communication with God.”
“How is that so?” I asked.
“He believed that ordinary language carries meanings and images from our daily reality that usually lack the element of holiness and purity. On the other hand, when we address ourselves to God in a language that has, as it were, an exclusive usage within the boundaries of the Ecclesia, the very words and sounds of that language evoke sacred feelings and images that facilitate communication with God. A special language that offers precise and exclusive meanings can automatically be experienced as the language of the Ecclesia. It carries greater spiritual force.” 
This is an astounding statement at a time when western convert churches are eager to translate everything into contemporary speech. Of course, the desire to hear the services in one’s own language is understandable and necessary, but underestimating the importance of primary church languages such as Greek, Latin, Slavonic, Georgian, Syriac, Arabic, and perhaps even Coptic and Ge’ez, too often ends in ignoring them, or even in a kind of disdain for the living traditions and original languages. I am not a Greek speaker myself, but I’ve been told that a single word in Greek often has several different meanings but when translated this richness is almost always lost. Is this so?
SISTER S.: Yes, this occurs all of the time. The person who reads the services and the theological books in the Greek of the Church Fathers gets much more out of it than a straightforward translation in French, German, or English can provide. In Greek, these words and terms have a long cultural history and theological meanings that were hammered out by great saints and theologians. They have a precision, a depth of meaning, and a breadth of context that is almost impossible to capture in another language. Probably Slavonic comes the closest because the Russians, Serbs and Bulgarians have had centuries of lived Orthodoxy that fills the words with meaning. But even Slavonic is sometimes poor in comparison to Greek. It lacks articles, so words may not be as clearly defined as they are in Greek.
Counting both the ancient and modern versions, Greek has an immense vocabulary, many times the size of the English vocabulary. For example, in my limited experience of translating from modern Greek to English, I have often had problems in translating words having to do with light. Greek has many terms for the action of light, while in English we have only a few that have the dignity that would suit the church context … such as shine, radiate, or gleam. Flash, sparkle, glitter, and so on, are too common or shallow, but in Greek there is a whole range of vocabulary to speak about light and the way light acts—so when you translate it into English, the translation often sounds flat, or the same words are repeated too often. The word “joy” has the same problems. This is a very simple example, but when you try to translate theological terms, it is even more difficult. These are words that have a history, that have been used by the Church Fathers to mean specific things within a specific Orthodox theological-spiritual context. When you translate them into English, the words have a whole different context. In one language, a word has a certain circle of meaning, while in another, the closest word might have an overlapping circle of meaning, but it will never be exactly the same. It has other echoes and other connotations. (Like the use of “gay” now in English, to use a crude example.) In addition, English theological terms are often shaded by centuries of use in a Roman Catholic or Protestant context.
So translations can never be exact from one language to another because all the words will never have the same exact meaning. To make it worse, an English text is often not only a translation, but a translation of a translation. English translations made by people from the Slavic tradition are from Slavonic, which is already a translation from Greek. As good as Slavonic is, to translate from it is like making a xerox of a xerox; you lose resolution, you lose the quality of the image.
Of course, we must have translations, they are indispensable for us, but we mustn’t forget that there is a depth of meaning in the original that is inaccessible to us. We have to respect this, to see the the value of maintaining these old languages.
This difficulty in translation is not only a matter of vocabulary—there is also the grammar of the old languages. Both Greek and Slavonic are inflected languages, which means that while in English, we use strings of prepositions and strict word order to get our meaning across, in both Greek and Slavonic, the words themselves change—for example, according to whether they are the subject or object—which means that Greek and Slavonic have a great deal more flexibility. You can change the word order in the sentence to add extra nuances or emphases, while if you did that in English, it would change the meaning.
The Fathers who were masters of the Greek language used the structure of the language and all sorts of poetic rhetorical devices to add emphasis, meaning and beauty to their writings. They were trained rhetoricians. Much of this beauty, meaning and precision is simply lost in translation. A translation can have its own beauty, but it can never be the original.
RTE: One example of this would be “nous,” which is usually translated as “mind”, but is actually much deeper. When asked about this translation in a 2002 interview with Road to Emmaus, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware said, “If you just say “mind” that is far too vague. In our translation of The Philokalia, we, with some hesitations, opted for the word intellect, emphasizing that it does not primarily mean the rational faculties. The nous is the spiritual vision that we all possess, though many of us have not discovered it. The nous implies a direct, intuitive appreciation of truth, where we apprehend the truth not simply as the conclusion of a reasoned argument, but we simply see that something is so.”
And this is the word that we often see simply translated as “mind”! It’s no wonder that we English-speakers often find ourselves going around and around, wondering what we are missing when we read Orthodox spiritual works in translation.
SISTER S.: In Greek there are also many words for love, while in English there is “love”, “liking”, “affection”, which really don’t differentiate the many different kinds of love as the Greek words do.
RTE: Yes. I recently read a book translated from Greek in which a well-known Greek elder talks about loving God with an “erotic” love (eros), which is sometimes surprising to non-Greek speakers, as “erotic” in modern English is so completely connected to the idea of lust. We’ve lost the meaning of the higher Greek term, which can mean a love for someone whom you love more than as a friend. I understand that this may or may not include romantic love; it can simply be an appreciation of the beauty within the other person.
Plato also said that eros helps the soul recall the knowledge of beauty and contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth; it inspires philosophers as well as lovers.
Another example that seems to have very wide implications is the Greek word logismos, which is usually translated in English spiritual texts as “a thought.” I’ve recently learned that the real meaning is much fuller.
SISTER S.: Yes, “thought” is the only single word equivalent we have in English. We don’t have a word that conveys the whole meaning of logismos. As it is used in spiritual and ascetic writings, a logismos is not a simple thought that comes to you, but a thought of particular intensity and power, especially one that can distract you and derail you from your spiritual path.
This isn’t something like, “Oh, the trees are changing color, it’s autumn, and soon the leaves will fall.” That’s skepsis—a simple thought, neither good nor bad. Logismos is something more like: “Oh, so and so was supposed to have raked up the leaves and he didn’t do it. Now, how am I going to deal with this, how am I going to speak to him about it? Is it up to me to do it? He never does what he’s supposed to do.” Also, a logismos is not only negative, it can also be a positive or seemingly positive thought, but it is a thought with consequences for your spiritual life, and you have to know how to face it and deal with it in the right way.
RTE: Do logismoi ever have demonic or angelic forces behind them, for good or ill?
SISTER S.: They can have either. A logismos can come from our passions, our own inner self, or it can come from the outside.
Elder Paisius of Mt. Athos dealt a great deal with the question of logismoi and the importance of confronting a negative situation with a good logismos. Of course, he said, this is not the highest thing. The highest thing is to have no logismoi and to be centered in God.
He gave an example: once a man came to him and was terribly upset because he’d had this nice house in the suburbs where his family was happy and his children could play in a quiet yard. Then some people came in and built a party center right next to his house and there was music, noise and partying day and night. He said, “Elder, I’m going crazy, I’m taking tranquilizers, my whole family is falling apart. We’re nervous wrecks, we’re yelling at each other all the time. I can’t sleep at night. What do I do?” Fr. Paisius said, “The only thing you can do is na valeis kalo logismo—to “put in” good thoughts. Imagine that you are in war time and the noise around you is tanks and shooting and bombs. Then, look at your situation now. Not only is there peace, but you aren’t in any danger, you aren’t being kicked out of your house, and even the people around you are so happy that they can have parties next door.”
Many people would have just dismissed this, but this man took it seriously, forming good thoughts about the people he saw and the noise he heard. He returned to Elder Paisius later and said, “Although I’d prefer to be in a quiet place, I’m no longer a nervous wreck. My family is better, I can live with it.”
RTE: So, a logismos is a thought with will behind it?
SISTER S.: It can be. The Church Fathers speak about different kinds of logismoi and how to deal with them, but to fully explain the idea in translation would take a much longer and more complex sentence than the word “thought” that we are usually left with. There simply aren’t equivalent words in English.
Also, in the Greek language, and probably in Russian and Slavonic too, certain words have a history. Parts of words have meanings, and if you know where a word comes from, its etymology, this helps you to understand the meaning of the word as the Church Fathers use it. Of course this is true in English too, but it’s far more true with Greek.
If we take a very simple word in English, like “sin,” we think we know what the word means—a transgression of God’s law. The Greek word amartia actually means “to miss the mark,” which helps us to understand what the Fathers meant when they used the word. This helps modern people also. Many people today have an aversion to a word like sin because for them it is a legalistic term that is used to pound people over the head. In its essence it means that your goal is union with God and anything that deflects you from that goal is a sin. If you understand this, it gives you a much deeper understanding of our relationship with God.
Another word that people react to is the word “heresy”—especially in the West where people immediately think of heretics being burned at the stake, which is what happened in some parts of Europe. The Fathers didn’t just come up with the word heresy to mean some kind of error of doctrine that will get you put on the bonfire. The root of the word is the Greek verb haireo which has a broad spectrum of meanings, but one of these meanings is to “choose your own idea.” The verb itself is not negative, it’s neutral. So, in this sense it means that you choose your own idea rather than that of the Church.
There is a depth and history to these words, that if you understand even a little, it helps you to understand the mind of the Fathers, the mind of the Church, and you can explain to people that a word like sin actually means missing the mark, missing the goal of your existence.
RTE: Then, when a language such as an Alaskan native dialect, or Spanish, or English doesn’t contain theologically precise terms for a word, it seems even more necessary for translators to use footnotes and commentary to explain the missing concept to a general reader or worshipper. Otherwise, it can end in the problems that eastern Christianity encountered where, at least partly, because of simplified equivalents of important theological terms in their native languages, some local churches veered off into unorthodox beliefs such as monophysitism.
Can we go on now to talk about the use of old languages in the liturgy?
SISTER S.: For traditional Orthodox Christians in Greece, their hair stands on end at the idea of doing the liturgy in the vernacular Greek. To them it is almost like blasphemy, because modern Greek is so flat and commonplace in comparison to the richness and beauty of ancient Greek. They feel the same about the translation of the New Testament Koine Greek, which is actually quite simple compared to the Greek of the Fathers.
RTE: Would this be as acute as the difference between the beauty of the King James Bible and one of the modern popular English versions incorporating slang?
SISTER S.: That’s perhaps a bit extreme, but something like that, although there are probably Christians in America who think that slang would be alright. Of course, many Greek people have the New Testament with the original Greek on one side and modern Greek on the other, to help them understand what they are reading, but there is no comparison between the two.
Even I, as a foreigner and not fluent in Greek, can feel the difference right away between the old language and modern Greek. The old is far more rich, dignified and beautiful.
RTE: I recently came across some interesting articles about Sir Thomas More, Erasmus, Colet, and their circle, who are remembered as the first European humanists. As it turns out, their aim was not at all to interest people in turning back to the classical period—they wanted to encourage a wider knowledge of Greek so that educated people could study the Church Fathers and the Bible in the original. They sensed that things had gotten off-track, even with the good Latin translations. Europeans after them took this in another direction, veering off into centuries of interest in classical Greek philosophical texts and pagan idealism.
SISTER S.: There was a reason why Greek was chosen as the language of the New Testament. In God’s providence, Greek was also the vehicle for the liturgy, and for the fundamental theological writings of many of the Church Fathers. Of course, in the West the Fathers also wrote in Latin, but Latin owes an incredible amount to Greek. I have heard that Latin has another feeling. It is more logical and has another spirit, and it doesn’t always capture the subtleties of the Greek.
RTE: Along with this, I don’t believe we can so easily dismiss this idea of “holy languages.” In their Lives and in contemporary accounts, Sts. Cyril, Methodius, and their disciples who assisted them with translation (several of whom were also saints) insisted that Slavonic was a gift from God: that He had revealed the formation of the early alphabet. Slavonic and Greek, as well as other traditional Orthodox languages have been hallowed by thousands of years of saint’s writings, liturgies, and prayer. If we disregard them as meaningless “ethnic accretions”, we are cutting ourselves off from our Orthodox roots.
I’ve often wondered if Protestant divergences from traditional Christian doctrine might partially have been a result of the King James and other English translations of the Bible not carrying the fullness of the Greek?
SISTER S.: That certainly could have played into it, because every translator, whether he knows it or not, injects his own views into the translation. You can see this in the Protestant King James version, in the incident where Christ is teaching the people, and “a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice and said unto Him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps which Thou hast sucked.’ But He said, ‘Yea, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it.” This is not correct. That “but” isn’t in the Greek. In Greek it is a continuation, as if it read, “And, he said unto her …” Also, the “yea rather” is better translated something like “yes, and even more.” It doesn’t have that feeling of contradiction and contrast. And we have to remember that this translation was done by people who were losing their veneration for the Mother of God, so whether intended or not, people’s views do enter into translation.
RTE: That’s very helpful. Another argument for widespread translation that western converts often raise is that “Orthodox tradition says that every country and people are to have the services and the liturgy in their own language. We are just following this tradition.” This is important as long as we understand that even a good translation is at best an approximation and that these translations took time. Many decades after the initial Valaam missionary effort in Alaska, St. Innocent was still requiring his missionary priests to translate one Gospel into each dialect (which often meant first creating an alphabet for the dialect), along with some basic catechetical books. At the same time, he strongly encouraged the learning of Slavonic and Russian, so that the native catechists and clergy would have a solid understanding of Orthodox belief.
In promoting this, I’ve even heard native English-speakers criticize Greeks and Slavic speakers for retaining Church Greek or Slavonic in services because it is hard for contemporary Greeks, Russians and Slavs to understand. They say, “It should be in modern Greek or Russian ….”
SISTER S.: Of course, Sts. Cyril and Methodius translated the Greek into the Slavic of the time, modifying it for different dialects, and as you said earlier, even developed the Glagolitic alphabet, because Slavic wasn’t a written language. Later, this alphabet was refined by their disciples, especially by St. Clement in Bulgaria, into what we now know as Slavonic. My understanding is that the Slavonic used in the Gospel and the services is a very literal translation of the Greek, where new words were composed to correspond to the Greek words. It was as exact as they could make it. Modern Russian speakers who haven’t studied Slavonic may only have a partial comprehension, yet it is very understandable that most Orthodox Christians in those countries do not want to throw out the richness of the Slavonic tradition for a necessarily inferior modern Russian translation.
RTE: As a vivid example of this, I recall that not long ago, an official in the Russian State Department told me that he had been present at a state function where an Orthodox bishop was asked to give a prayer. Wanting to “relate” to the mostly secular officials, the bishop gave the prayer in modern Russian. The whole contingent of diplomats were in agony trying to stifle their laughter, as everyone in Russia knows something of Church Slavonic through studying linguistics, history or literature, and even to the ears of secular civil servants it sounded deeply wrong. And, in fact, the officially secular Russian Federation celebrates the Church Feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius as one of Russia’s national holidays. Everyone recognizes the importance of their contribution.
Russian friends say that when Cyril and Methodius introduced new Christian terms into the Slavonic language, rather than simply identifying existing words, finding a better or worse match, and supplying an alphabet, they put together existing Slavonic roots to mirror Greek terms. The most obvious of these root combinations (called “calques”) is the Greek word Orthodox, which in Greek means correct + glorification. In Slavonic, of course, this is Pravoslavie, composed of the same pair pravo (correct) and slavie (glorification).
There are calque equivalents for many Greek theological, aesthetic, and philosophical terms, such as speaking of Christ’s dual nature as ‘divine humanity’ (in Russian, Bogochelovechestvo), or the single Russian word Chelovekolyubets, which is the calque for the Greek word meaning “lover of mankind”. In this way, by using a language’s existing roots you can introduce terms for ideas or concepts that are previously completely unknown. For example, in English we simply don’t have the spiritual concept of “joy-making sorrow”, but this exists in both Greek and Slavonic.
SISTER S.: This results in Church Slavonic having an immediacy (and obviously it had even more in the past) for Slavic peoples because it is built using familiar root words. But it also conveys Greek meaning precisely and concisely, whereas English often needs a whole phrase or sentence, or has terms like “Orthodoxy”, whose meaning is not so immediate.
RTE: Interestingly, Chinese translators who are now working on translations of Orthodox books and services into Chinese are attempting to do the same as Sts. Cyril and Methodius. They are creating new words and characters to carry the full theological meanings of the Greek and Slavonic originals. Can you comment now on the current state of English translations?
SISTER S.: Most of the service books have been translated into English, which is a great blessing, but the quality of the translations is very uneven. Some are quite as good as we can get in modern English, while others are very inferior. Those who translate service books should have training in theology, including ascetic theology, a thorough knowledge of the Greek of the Church Fathers, and a good ear for English. There is also disagreement about which style of English is more appropriate for church use. Personally, I prefer the older Elizabethan style for its beauty and dignity as did Elder Sophrony, but only if it is well done—otherwise it sounds stilted and clumsy.
Elder Ephraim of St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona insists that all of his monasteries do all of the services in Greek. I don’t quite agree with this and I think it will eventually have to change—but I can understand that he wants the American novices who come to him to learn Greek so that they can read the Fathers, understand the services, and enter the mind of the Church through the language. Also, Greek monasticism is a whole culture in itself. The way people relate to each other in the monastery, the traditional Greek phrases they use, creates an atmosphere and relationship within the monastery that you simply don’t have with American converts using English. This all helps to bring people into the mind of the Church.
RTE: A few years ago I mentioned this language controversy to two British academics, both Orthodox converts, and they answered, “Well, there is only one real answer—everyone needs to learn Greek.” Although not of Greek heritage themselves, this is what they had come to, they felt it was of such importance. Obviously, this is not going to happen for most of us, who will continue to rely on our English translators. Yet, many of us are concerned that some of our English-speaking churches are moving towards adopting not the best of our translations, but colorless versions with distorted meanings. To be fair, this is often in an attempt to fit the English words to traditional music, but even so, we are in danger of losing whatever real beauty and meaning can be preserved in English.
SISTER S.: Yes, these original languages were formed by the mind of the Church, by saints, by great theologians who were saints, and by the practice of the people over two millennia. Even though the West has been Christian, it hasn’t always been Orthodox, so even words that might have originally corresponded to the Orthodox terms have acquired a different meaning or flavor and have to be reinterpreted and re-explained in light of the language of the Church Fathers and the New Testament. Many of these concepts have been lost and are now no longer intelligible to us.
Still, the Holy Spirit also helps, of course. You can be illiterate and become a saint, but these questions of language are certainly worth contemplating. I believe that we converts need to have a degree of humility towards the cultures that brought us Orthodoxy—to be grateful and humble that we are the recipients of these peoples’ centuries of piety and learning. And not to be like Jacob—a weaned child on his mother’s lap who grows fat, and kicks away. (cf. Deut. 32:15) Sometimes we read a few books and a smattering of Church history and think, “there we are”. Humility and gratitude towards these cultures are important in developing a truly Orthodox world-view.
Markides, Kyriakos C., Gifts of the Desert: The Forgotten Path of Christian Spirituality, Random House-Doubleday, NY, 2005.
Bishop Kallistos Ware, Becoming Orthodox: Thoughts on Personhood, the Philokalia, and the Jesus Prayer, Road to Emmaus, Issue #10, Summer 2002, pg. 49.
Luke 11: 27-28
From: Road to Emmaus Vol. XI, No. 3 (#42).
Two votes at the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) underscored the Church Fathers’ devotion to marriage. The first vote maintained clerical marriage relationships, (1) the second defended surviving spouses’ remarriage. Though the latter was a clear indication of their esteem for the institution, in that they provided for widows and widowers who yearned for a new mate, it was actually a moderating vote. So high was the Church’s regard for a couple’s original vows that such prominent figures as Hermas, Justin Martyr, and Athenagoras argued that the bond outlasted death itself. (2) In the end, their stricture was not adopted, (3) but the very fact of its consideration showed the group was quite serious about marital vows. As one patristic scholar, Willy Rordorf, put it, “Concerning the conception of marriage as a total union of the couple implying a fidelity without reserve, there is unanimous agreement between the New Testament and the Early Church.” (4)
It may seem strange that the Council of Nicaea, known for affirming the divinity of Christ, also dealt with such matters. But, this is not so surprising given the context. According to Roman law (which applied throughout the empire) marriage was a private contract like any other contract—dissolvable by one or both parties. “Consequently, divorce was not difficult to obtain.” (5) So Church leaders took a counter-culture stance, at odds even with practice within their congregations. When Chrysostom preached on divorce, he noted that some members of his congregation “hung their heads in shame,” and Ambrose found it necessary to instruct his readers not to make use of the government’s divorce laws. (6) In fact (and likely with the empire’s toleration in mind), the Fathers were steadfast in their defence of marriage, which they saw both as a sacrament (symbolic of Christ’s relationship with the Church) and as a means of witnessing to God’s steadfast love for humanity.
The Fathers did disagree on the implications of adultery for remarriage and wrestled over interpretation of Matthew 19:9—“whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (ESV). Some, such as Augustine, prohibited remarriage under any circumstances, and others, such as Chrysostom, allowed for it when a spouse was the victim of adultery. (7) The Shepherd of Hermas took the stricter stance: If a husband finds that his wife has committed adultery and she is unrepentant—he must “dismiss her” and not remarry. (8) But Tertullian claimed exceptions: “Permanent is the marriage which is not rightly dissolved; to marry, therefore, whilst matrimony is undissolved, is to commit adultery. . . . Divorce, therefore, when justly deserved, has even in Christ a defender.” (9) In granting the marriage bond could be “rightly dissolved,” Tertullian suggested “the correlative right to remarry.” (10)
Of course, this disagreement mirrors contemporary debates within some parts of the Christian Church. Not surprisingly, those who reject remarriage—without exception—will point to the early Church’s strong defense of marriage. (11) But defenders of a biblical permission to remarry—under certain circumstances—caution us that the Fathers did not speak with one voice on this issue. (12)
How then are the Fathers to be understood? At the very least, they were staunch advocates of marriage in a civil society and culture in which the covenant of marriage could sometimes be seen as a little more than another legal contract—not unlike today. The early Church grappled with the biblical text, applying it to every aspect of their lives—from their doctrine of Christ to their doctrine of marriage. Since we live in a culture willing to throw out marriage, embrace divorce, and assume remarriage—in all circumstances—the Fathers may be worth another look.
The Orthodox Church does allow divorce and remarriage in some circumstances. It is an acknowledgement and allowance for human weakness and not something that the Church accepts lightly, because of it”s high view of the sanctity of marriage.
1 Socrates, Church History from A.D. 305 – 439, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, vol. 2, eds. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 18. In other translations see Church History from A.D. 305 – 439, Book 1, Chapter 11.
2 As Athenagoras expressed his conviction, “For whosoever separates himself from his first wife, even though she be dead, is a somewhat disguised adulterer.” Quoted by J. P. Arendzen, “Ante-Nicene Interpretations of the Sayings on Divorce,” The Journal of Theological Studies 20 (1919), 231-232.
3 Pat Edwin Harrell, Divorce and Remarriage in the Early Church: A History of Divorce and Remarriage in the Ante-Nicene Church (Austin, TX: R. B. Sweet Company, 1967), 170-171.
4 Willy Rordorf, “Marriage in the New Testament and in the Early Church,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 20, no. 2 (October, 1969), 203.
5 Harrell, 173. The proscriptions against singleness, of course, were seen in light of the “sacred duty” of both Roman men and women to procreate, producing citizens for the empire.
6 Ibid., 174. Harrell noted that though Chrysostom and Ambrose ministered after Nicaea, what was true for them was likely true before their time as well.
7 Rodorf, 204. Rordorf also points to Augustine as objecting to remarriage under all circumstances. For those Fathers who allowed remarriage in the case of adultery, Rordorf cites Origen, Basil, Epiphanius, Chrysostom, Lactantius, Jerome, Pollentius (adversary of Augustine), and Ambrosiaster.
8 Quoted by J. P. Arendzen, “Ante-Nicene Interpretations of the Sayings on Divorce,” The Journal of Theological Studies 20 (1919), 230.
9 Tertullian, Anti- Marcion, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, ed. Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986), 405. In other translations, see Against Marcion, Book 4, Chapter 34. Italics added.
10 Harrell, 179. Harrell quotes from the same text of Tertullian. Though Harrell never explicitly states that Tertullian never mentions remarriage, Harrell is right to argue that “[t]he entire tenor of this passage is to suggest that divorce and remarriage are possible under proper conditions. These words of Tertullian provide an extreme difficulty for those who are committed to maintaining the impossibility of divorce with the correlative right to remarry.” Ibid.
11 For example, see William A. Heth, “The Changing Basis for Permitting Remarriage after Divorce for Adultery: The Influence of R. H. Charles,” Trinity Journal 11 (1990), 147: “For the first five centuries of the church the early Christian writers did not interpret the ‘divorce’ for immorality found in Matt 19:9 as one that dissolved the marriage.”
12 Craig L. Blomberg, “Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, and Celibacy: An Exegesis of Matthew 19:3-12,” Trinity Journal 11 (1990), 180.
How the Forced Recognition of Same-Sex "Marriage" Undermines a Free Society
By S. T. Karnick
From the beginning, the debate over "same-sex marriage" has been one of those topsy-turvy issues in which the side that is truly tolerant and fair has been characterized as narrow-minded and oppressive, while the side that is intolerant and blatantly coercive has been depicted as open-minded and sympathetic.
Favoring government-enforced recognition of same-sex "marriage" is not, as the media invariably characterize it, a kindly, liberal-minded position, but instead a fierce, coercive, intolerant one. Despite their agonized complaints about the refusal of the majority of Americans to give in on the subject, those who advocate government recognition of same-sex "marriage" want to use coercion to deny other people their fundamental rights.
The issue, it's important to remember, is not whether society will allow homosexuals to "marry." They may already do so, in any church or other sanctioning body that is willing to perform the ceremony. There are, in fact, many organizations willing to do so: the Episcopal Church USA, the Alliance of Baptists, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Unity School of Christianity, the Unitarian Universalists, the Swedenborgian Church of North America, the Quakers, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, and the United Church of Christ, among others. Such institutions either explicitly allow the consecration or blessing of same-sex "marriages" or look the other way when individual congregations perform such ceremonies.
No laws prevent these churches from conducting marriage ceremonies—and nearly all Americans would agree that it is right for the government to stay out of a church's decision on the issue. Further, any couple of any kind may stand before a gathering of well-wishers and pledge their union to each other, and the law will do nothing to prevent them. Same-sex couples, or any other combination of people, animals, and inanimate objects, can and do "marry" in this way. What the law in most states currently does not do, however, is force third parties—individuals, businesses, institutions, and so on—to recognize these "marriages" and treat them as if they were exactly the same as traditional marriages. Nor does it forbid anyone to do so.
An insurance company, for example, is free to treat a same-sex couple (or an unmarried two-sex couple) the same way it treats married couples, or not. A church can choose to bless same-sex unions, or not. An employer can choose to recognize same-sex couples as "married," or not. As Richard Thompson Ford noted in Slate, "In 1992 only one Fortune 500 company offered employee benefits to same-sex domestic partners; today hundreds do."
In short, individuals, organizations, and institutions in most states are currently free to treat same-sex unions as marriages, or not. This, of course, is the truly liberal and tolerant position. It means letting the people concerned make up their own minds about how to treat these relationships. But this freedom is precisely what the advocates of same-sex "marriage" want to destroy; they want to use the government's power to force everyone to recognize same-sex unions as marriages whether they want to or not.
The effects of such coercion have already been felt in some places. Adoption agencies, for example, like any other organization, ought to be able to choose whether to give children to same-sex couples, or not. But in Massachusetts, where same-sex "marriage" has been declared legal, these agencies have been forced to accept applications from same-sex couples or go out of business.
What's at issue here is not whether people can declare themselves married and find other people to agree with them and treat them as such. No, what's in contention is whether the government should force everyone to recognize such "marriages." Far from being a liberating thing, the forced recognition of same-sex "marriage" is a governmental intrusion of monumental proportions.
Although pro-homosexual radicals continually refer to the forced recognition of same-sex "marriage" as a civil right, as well as a matter of liberating society from hidebound prejudices, such policies are actually the government-enforced imposition of a small group's sexual values on a reluctant and indeed strongly resistant population. That's why nearly all of the moves to legalize same-sex "marriage" have come from the courts, not the democratic process. After all, court cases would not be necessary if the public already agreed with the radicals.
This was made clear in the California Supreme Court's recent ruling that the state constitution's equal protection clauses mean that individuals have a fundamental "right to marry" whomever they choose and that gender restrictions in marriage are thus unconstitutional. The court, Republican-dominated and previously known as moderately conservative, voted by a slim 4—3 margin that sexual orientation would have to be treated just like race and sex in the state's laws. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Ronald M. George declared,
"Our state now recognizes that an individual's capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual's sexual orientation. An individual's sexual orientation—like a person's race or gender—does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights."
The court ruled that the state's law approving "domestic partnerships" for same-sex couples was not enough—only official recognition as marriage would do.
Note these words in the court's decision: "Our state now recognizes." Actually, the state did no such thing; the court did it for them. The decision struck down Proposition 22, a ballot measure approved by 61 percent of the state's voters in the year 2000, which stated that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California." Thus, four judges decided to impose their personal views over the people's clearly expressed will, shown powerfully in the state referendum. Nor does their decision reflect a changed social atmosphere. The issue will remain in contention through the November elections, as the ballot in California will include an initiative to amend the state constitution to prohibit the government from recognizing same-sex "marriages."
What that would mean, of course, is not that Californians would be barred from "marrying" people of the same sex, but that they could not use the government to force other individuals, businesses, and institutions to recognize those "marriages."
As this case shows, the people who seek to "impose their values" on others are those who support government recognition of same-sex "marriage," not those who oppose it.
Moreover, it is not correct to argue that government recognition of two-sex marriages is unfair or oppressive. If proponents of same-sex "marriage" ask why the government should be allowed to require people to acknowledge traditional two-sex marriages, the answer is simple: It does not. The institutions of society acknowledge heterosexual marriages on the basis of historical and cultural preferences dating back millennia. The government didn't decide this; society did. Government recognition of traditional marriage was not a change forced upon society, but rather a legal codification of what society had already established.
Moreover, even homosexuals agree that marriage is a valid institution. They confirm this powerfully by trying to alter the institution through force of law so that same-sex couples can be included in it. The key difference between traditional marriage and same-sex "marriage," however, is that the government, in acknowledging heterosexual marriage, does not force anything on society; it merely effects the enforcement of a contract that all—or nearly all—people accept as valid and sensible. Same-sex "marriage," by contrast, is not seen as such by most people; forcing individuals to recognize it is not the legal codification of an existing social reality, but instead a radical social change forced by a few on the many.
A Pew Research Center Survey released earlier this year noted in its title that "Most Americans Still Oppose Same-Sex Marriage." The survey reported that 55 percent of Americans oppose "allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally," while only 36 percent support such a policy. A table in the report noted that "Most Groups Oppose Gay Marriage," though the study observed that poll respondents approved of allowing civil unions for same-sex couples by a 54—42 percent margin. Clearly, this suggests that most Americans are willing to allow same-sex couples to formalize their relationships in some way, but they don't want to be forced to change the definition of marriage to include them.
A Sea Change
Even fewer people would support same-sex "marriage" if the full implications of laws allowing them were widely known. A few days after the California Supreme Court decision, conservative columnist Dennis Prager noted just how sweeping and anti-democratic the decision was, saying, "Nothing imaginable—leftward or rightward—would constitute as radical a change in the way society is structured as this redefining of marriage for the first time in history." Unless the decision is reversed by an amendment to the California or US Constitution, Prager argued, "four justices of the California Supreme Court will have changed American society more than any four individuals since Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Madison."
Prager listed some of the social changes he foresees resulting from the court's decision:
"Outside of the privacy of their homes, young girls will be discouraged from imagining one day marrying their prince charming—to do so would be declared "heterosexist," morally equivalent to racist. . . . Schoolbooks will not be allowed to describe marriage in male-female ways alone. . . .
Any advocacy of man-woman marriage alone will be regarded morally as hate speech, and shortly thereafter it will be deemed so in law.
Companies that advertise engagement rings will have to show a man putting a ring on a man's finger—if they show only women's fingers, they will be boycotted just as a company having racist ads would be now.
Films that only show man-woman married couples will be regarded as antisocial and as morally irresponsible as films that show people smoking have become.
Traditional Jews and Christians—i.e., those who believe in a divine scripture—will be marginalized."
Some might argue that Prager is indulging in hyperbole and will only cause unnecessary panic with these absurd hobgoblins, but it is difficult to see how the people of California would be able to stop sexual radicals from using the state's courts to implement all of these changes—and more—if the decision is allowed to stand. Yet, ironically, Prager notes, this far-reaching, radical decision has been deemed by the press as the compassionate, liberal-minded position on the matter. The mind boggles at the thought of what oppression might look like.
The libertarian writer Jennifer Roback Morse likewise notes that same-sex "marriage" is not a reduction of government intrusion into private lives, but an immense expansion of it. Writing in the National Catholic Register, she observes,
"Advocates of same-sex "marriage" insist that theirs is a modest reform: a mere expansion of marriage to include people currently excluded. But the price of same-sex "marriage" is a reduction in tolerance for everyone else, and an expansion of the power of the state."
Morse provides several examples that show how oppressive the same-sex "liberators" are in practice, including the following:
"Recently, a Methodist organization in New Jersey lost part of its tax-exempt status because it refused to allow two lesbian couples to use their facility for a civil union ceremony. In Quebec, a Mennonite school was informed that it must conform to the official provincial curriculum, which includes teaching homosexuality as an acceptable alternative lifestyle. . . .
And recently, a wedding photographer in New Mexico faced a hearing with the state's Human Rights Commission because she declined the business of a lesbian couple. She didn't want to take photos of their commitment ceremony."
This list could be expanded and will only grow, as sexual radicals across the nation increasingly use the government to break down all resistance to their agenda. Recognizing the vast implications of a successful movement to disallow anyone from recognizing any difference between the sexes, Morse sees who the real victims of oppression would be:
"Perhaps you think people have a natural civil right to marry the person of their choosing. But can you really force yourself to believe that wedding photography is a civil right?"
Maybe you believe that same-sex couples are entitled to have children, somehow. But is any doctor they might encounter required to inseminate them?
As Morse and Prager both note, what advocates of government recognition of same-sex "marriage" are after is not "tolerance and respect," but a forcible reordering of all of society along "gender-neutral" principles—and anyone who resists will face punishment by the government. In such an environment, it should hardly surprise us to see freedom of speech become a thing of the past.
An example of the suppression of dissent occurred in a debate last year in which the candidates for the Democratic party's presidential nomination discussed issues related to homosexual rights. When Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel came out explicitly for forcing all of society to recognize same-sex "marriages," and the audience erupted in cheers, the more prominent candidates kept their heads down and clearly tried to avoid making any big mistakes.
Two of them, however, were forced into Orwellian moments of self-abasement. Former Senator John Edwards felt compelled to apologize for once having said that he opposed same-sex "marriage" for religious reasons. He promised not to impose his "faith belief" on the American people—though he would apparently be willing to impose the radicals' unbelief on all of society.
Even more revealingly, New Mexico Governor William Richardson, a strong supporter of the homosexualist agenda, blundered when asked whether homosexual behavior is a biological imperative or a choice. Richardson said, "It's a choice." Some people in the audience gasped audibly. This was potentially catastrophic for him because the great majority of homosexual activists claim that homosexual behavior is biological in origin.
Richardson's campaign organization quickly issued a retraction of what he said in the debate. As Prager and Morse point out, this sort of forced "attitude adjustment" will become universal if the "same-sex marriage" agenda is embedded in the nation's laws.
The question of whether the definition of marriage will be made by the free choices of society or by government fiat is the central issue in the "same-sex marriage" controversy. To be sure, those who argue that the government should not discriminate between traditional and same-sex couples can make their case seem principled and liberal-minded. The truth, however, is that those who favor forced recognition of same-sex "marriage" seek to suppress freedom, and those who oppose these ideas represent real liberty. •
Lost in the debate surrounding the forced recognition of same-sex "marriage" is that such unions are still very much illegal—and in every state of the union. Yes, it's true that the California Supreme Court did rule that the prohibition of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, as well as that the language in Proposition 22, which limited marriage to one man and one woman, must be excised from the statute. It's just that the court had no authority to do the excising. According to the California Constitution, only the people within that state can revoke or amend an initiative statute, which is precisely what Proposition 22 is. And because 61.4 percent of California voters have already insisted that "only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California," it is unlikely that the people will take such action any time soon. Thus, it was the court's implication that its opinion had the force of law, not to mention Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to enforce that opinion despite having no legal authority to do so, that was actually unconstitutional, not the ban on same-sex marriage. Interestingly enough, the same problem plagues Massachusetts' "legalization" of same-sex marriage by court ruling, which Governor Mitt Romney illegally enforced in 2004. In both states, gay marriage remains illegal, despite what the media may claim. Now if only we could get our government officials to fulfill their sworn obligation to
From Salvo 6 (Autumn 2008)
By Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D.
What does the Bible actually say about “gay marriage”? That question is the title of a a recent op-ed piece in the Huffington Post written by Lee Jefferson, a visiting assistant professor of religion at Centre College. According to Jefferson the answer is: “Nothing,” or at least “Nothing negative.”
Jefferson used the recent passage of “gay marriage” by the New York legislature as a springboard from which to denigrate appeals to the Bible against homosexual practice. I will use Jefferson’s article as a springboard from which to answer the question that he and many others have raised.
It is of relevance that, though Jefferson gives the appearance of speaking with authority on the question, he has not (to my knowledge) published any academic work on the issue of the Bible and homosexual practice. His expertise is not in the Bible but in Christian art of Late Antiquity. Jefferson also shows little or no awareness in his article of the array of strong arguments against his claims.
In addition, Jefferson exhibits an unfortunate tendentiousness in his characterizations. He speaks glowingly of the “enlightening progress in our culture concerning the LGBT community.” Those who disagree represent a “cacophonous opposition” that uses religion as “a bruising hammer” and lobs “textual grenades”-as if the homosexualist advocacy groups have not been even louder and more belligerent and strident. The fact that the media is overwhelmingly on the side of promoting homosexual unions is not enough for Jefferson. He bemoans the fact that the media reports any dissent to this party line.
It should go without saying that upholding a male-female requirement for marriage can and should be a product of a loving desire to avoid the degradation of the gendered self that comes from engaging in homosexual practice. That it does not go without saying is due in large part to today’s charged political atmosphere where hateful characterizations of persons who disapprove of homosexual unions are commonplace among proponents of such unions.
This hateful reaction stems largely from a comparison of such persons to racists and sexists. Yet such a comparison begs the question of whether the comparison is accurate. If opposition to gay marriage is more like opposition to marriage between close kin and to marriage between three or more persons, than one arrives at very different conclusions about what constitutes love.
And now on to Jefferson’s arguments.
The ancient world and homosexual orientation
A linchpin of Jefferson’s case is his claim that no one in the Greco-Roman world had any knowledge of something akin to “same-sex orientation.” Jefferson ironically makes this claim while insisting on the importance of understanding the ancient context behind the biblical text.
The fact is that in the Greco-Roman world theories existed that posited at least some congenital basis for some forms of homosexual attraction, particularly on the part of males desiring to be penetrated. These theories derived from Platonic, Aristotelian, Hippocratic, and even astrological sources. They included: a creation splitting of male-male or female-female binary humans; a particular mix of male and female sperm elements at conception; a chronic disease of the mind or soul influenced indirectly by biological factors and made hard to resist by socialization; an inherited disease analogous to a mutated gene; sperm ducts leading to the anus; and the particular alignment of heavenly constellations at the time of one’s birth.
Some of the ancient theories are obviously closer to modern theories than others. What matters, though, is that many in the ancient world attributed one or more forms of homosexual practice to an interplay of nature and nurture. Many viewed same-sex attractions for some persons as exclusive and very resistant to change.
Jefferson gives no indication that he is aware of the literature that contravenes his claim. Contrast Jefferson’s remarks with the observation of Thomas K. Hubbard, a classicist at the University of Texas (Austin), in his magisterial book, Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents (University of California Press, 2003): “Homosexuality in this era [i.e., of the early imperial age of Rome] may have ceased to be merely another practice of personal pleasure and began to be viewed as an essential and central category of personal identity, exclusive of and antithetical to heterosexual orientation” (p. 386). Hubbard also points to a series of later texts from the second to fourth centuries that “reflect the perception that sexual orientation is something fixed and incurable” (p. 446).
Contrast it too with this assessment by Bernadette J. Brooten, professor of Christian Studies at Brandeis University and a self-avowed lesbian, in her important work, Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism (University of Chicago Press, 1996):
"Paul could have believed that tribades [the active female partners in a female homosexual bond], the ancient kinaidoi [the passive male partners in a male homosexual bond], and other sexually unorthodox persons were born that way and yet still condemn them as unnatural and shameful. . . . I see Paul as condemning all forms of homoeroticism as the unnatural acts of people who had turned away from God." (p. 446)
Other scholars who have written major works on the Bible and homosexuality make similar points, such as William Schoedel, professor emeritus of classics and early Christianity from the University of Illinois, and Martti Nissinen, professor of Old Testament at the University of Helsinki. Note too that all these scholars have written from a stance supportive of homosexual unions.
Although it is usually assumed that Paul in Rom 1:24-27 treats homosexual attraction solely as a chosen condition of constitutional heterosexuals, nothing in the wording of the text substantiates such an assumption. The expressions “exchanged” and “leaving behind” in 1.26-27 do not refer to a willful exchange of heterosexual desire for homosexual desire. Rather, they refer to a choice of gratifying innate homoerotic desires instead of complying with the evidence of male-female complementarity transparent in material creation or nature.
Furthermore, as with Philo of Alexandria (a first-century Jewish philosopher), Paul was probably aware of the existence of a lifelong homoerotic proclivity at least among the “soft men” (malakoi) who, even as adults, feminized their appearance to attract male sex partners (1 Cor 6:9). Paul viewed sin as an innate impulse, passed on by a foundational ancestor, running through the members of the human body, and never entirely within human control (see his discussion in Romans 7:7-23). So any theory positing congenital influences on homosexual development would obviously have made little difference to Paul’s opposition to all same-sex intercourse.
The evidence indicates that some Greco-Roman moralists and physicians, operating within a culture that tolerated and at times endorsed at least some homosexual practice, could reject even committed homosexual unions entered into by those with a biological predisposition toward such unions. What, then, is the likelihood that the apostle Paul, operating out of a Jewish subculture that was more strongly opposed to homosexual practice than any other known culture in the Mediterranean Basin or ancient Near East, would have embraced such unions?
It is important to bear in mind also that semi-official marriages between men and between women were well known in the Greco-Roman world (even the rabbis were aware of such things, as also Church Fathers). The notion that adult-committed homosexual relationships first originated in the modern era is historically indefensible. Consequently, it cannot be used as a “new knowledge” argument for dismissing the biblical witness. Even Louis Crompton, an historian and self-avowed “gay” man, has drawn the proper conclusion from this historical data in his highly acclaimed book, Homosexuality and Civilization (Harvard University Press, 2003):
"According to [one] interpretation, Paul’s words were not directed at ‘bona fide’ homosexuals in committed relationships. But such a reading, however well-intentioned, seems strained and unhistorical. Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstance. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any other Jew or early Christian." (p. 114)
Genesis 2 and its implications for “gay marriage”
Another flawed argument that Jefferson makes is that “the Bible does not clearly endorse one form of marriage over another.” This would have been news to every first-century Jew, including the historian Josephus. Josephus explained to Gentile readers that “the Law [of Moses] recognizes only sexual intercourse that is according to nature, that which is with a woman. . . . But it abhors the intercourse of males with males” (Against Apion 2.199).
Jefferson tries to substantiate his claim by asserting that the story about Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 “is a gender creation story, not a creation of marriage story.” Yet Genesis 2:24 clearly extrapolates from the story about the creation of woman in 2:18-23 the marriage principle that “for this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and be joined to his woman (wife) and become one flesh.”
The narrative begins with an originally sexually-undifferentiated human (Heb. adam, “earthling”), from whom some indeterminate portion of bone and flesh is taken from one of the human’s “sides” (a better translation than “ribs” since it is the meaning given to this word, tsela, everywhere else in the Old Testament). This extraction is made in order to form a woman, thereafter turning the adam into a gender-specific man (Heb. ish). The woman is depicted as the man’s “counterpart” or “complement” (2:18, 20)-a translation of Heb. neged that means both “corresponding to” (denoting likeness as regards humanity) and “opposite” (denoting difference as regards sex or gender).
The subtext of the story is that man and woman may unite in marriage to become “one flesh” because out of one flesh the two came. This is a beautiful image of a transcendent reality: that man and woman are each other’s sexual “other half,” the missing element in the spectrum of sexuality. Clearly the story indicates a foundational male-female prerequisite for valid sexual unions, irrespective of (as Jefferson puts it) the absence of “a jazz band reception in Paradise.”
Jesus and “gay marriage”
Jesus apparently understood Genesis 1:27 (God “made them male and female”) and Genesis 2:24 (cited above) as implying a male-female requirement for marriage. Jesus cited these two texts back-to-back (Mark 10:2-12; Matthew 19:3-12) in order to make the point that the complementary twoness of the sexes, male and female, is the foundation for limiting the number of partners in a sexual union to two.
When man and woman unite in marriage, the sexual spectrum is completed such that a third partner is neither necessary nor desirable. Jesus applied this principle not only explicitly to a rejection of a revolving door of divorce-and-remarriage (a form of serial polygamy) but also implicitly to polygamy, which both in Jesus’ day and in ours is the easier prohibition.
We know that this was Jesus’ point because the sectarian Jewish group known as the Essenes (who regarded even the Pharisees as too lax in their observance of the Law of Moses) similarly rejected polygamy on the grounds that God made us “male and female” (zakar uneqevah). They connected this phrase in Genesis 1:27 to its occurrence in the Noah’s ark narrative where the twoness of the bond is stressed (“two by two”; Damascus Covenant 4.20-5.1). They then deduced that God’s will at creation was for marriage to be a partnership of two and only two persons.
Jefferson stresses Jesus’ silence on the issue of homosexual practice as “exhibit A” for his claim that “same-sex practice is a topic of little interest to the Biblical authors.” Yet Jesus also says nothing about incest or bestiality. Surely this “silence” does not suggest Jesus’ indifference. Why should Jesus spend time talking explicitly about offenses that no Jew in first-century Palestine is advocating, let alone engaging in, and that his Hebrew Scriptures already proscribe in no uncertain terms?
Clearly Jesus regarded a male-female requirement in marriage as an “irreducible minimum” in sexual ethics, the foundation on which other sexual standards are predicated, including monogamy.
A half dozen other historical arguments establish Jesus’ opposition to homosexual practice, including his adherence to the Law of Moses generally and his intensification of sexual ethics in particular (not only as regards polygamy and divorce-and-remarriage but also as regards “adultery of the heart”); the fact that the man who baptized him (John the Baptist) got beheaded for defending Levitical sex laws; and both early Judaism’s and the early church’s univocal opposition to homosexual practice as an egregious offense. Jesus wasn’t shy about expressing disagreement with prevailing norms. Silence speaks for his acceptance of the prevailing view.
Some texts that speak directly to homosexual practice
Jefferson characterizes the texts that speak directly to the issue of homosexual practice as “scant indeed.” Yet the number of biblical texts doing so is comparable to the number of texts addressing incest and greater than those prohibiting bestiality. If one looks at Scripture contextually (as Jefferson urges others to do) it will be evident that Scripture’s opposition to homosexual practice is deeply embedded in the fabric of its sexual ethics.
In fact, every text in Scripture treating sexual matters, whether narrative, law, proverb, poetry, moral exhortation, or metaphor, presupposes a male-female prerequisite for all sexual activity. For example, in Old Testament law there are constant distinctions between appropriate and inappropriate forms of other-sex intercourse but nothing of the sort for same-sex intercourse. The reason for this is apparent: Since same-sex intercourse was always unacceptable, there was no need to make such distinctions. Another example involves metaphor: Even though ancient Israel was a male-dominated society, it imaged itself in relation to Yahweh as a female to a husband, so as to avoid the imagery of a man-male sexual bond.
Jefferson’s interpretation of texts that more or less directly address homosexual practice is deeply flawed. He writes off the Sodom episode in Genesis 19 as a text concerned with hospitality, not homosexual practice. This makes an either-or out of a both-and. The episode at Sodom is viewed in early Judaism as a paradigmatic example of gross inhospitality to visitors precisely because the men of Sodom seek to dishonor the sexuality of the male visitors. By asking to have sex with them as though they were females they treat the maleness of the visitors as of no account. The fact that this is done in the context of attempted rape is no more an indication of the irrelevance of the homosexual aspect than is a story about incestuous rape (so, I would argue, Ham’s act against his father Noah in Genesis 9) irrelevant for indicting adult-consensual incest.
Jefferson dismisses the prohibitions of man-male intercourse in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as limited to a particular time and place in Israel’s history, like dietary restrictions and the prohibition of cloth mixtures. But the prohibition of man-male intercourse is more closely related in its context to the prohibitions of other sexual offenses that we continue to prohibit today: incest, adultery, and bestiality. The Holiness Code in Leviticus (chaps. 17-26) specifically refers to these forbidden sex acts as “iniquity” or “sin,” not just ritual uncleanness (18:25). It does not allow absolution merely through ritual acts (such as bathing and waiting for the sun to go down). It does not treat these sexual offenses as making the participants contagious to touch (unlike some ritual impurity offenses). The penalty applies only to those who engage in these acts with willful intent (whereas ritual purity infractions encompass both advertent and inadvertent acts). Leviticus applies the prohibitions not just to Jews but to Gentiles inhabiting the land. For all these reasons the prohibitions of incest, adultery, man-male intercourse, and bestiality do not look like merely ritual offenses.
The prohibition of cloth mixtures is largely symbolic, since the penalty is only the destruction of the cloth (not the wearer) and since too some cloth mixtures are enjoined for the Tabernacle, parts of the priestly wardrobe, and the tassel worn by the laity (apparently on the assumption that cloth mixtures symbolized ‘penetration’ into the divine realm, which was inappropriate in non-sacral contexts). The prohibition of incest is a much closer analogy to the prohibition of man-male intercourse than dietary rules or rules against cloth mixtures, since both incest and same-sex intercourse involve sexual offenses between persons too much alike in terms of embodied structures-one as regards kinship, the other as regards gender.
As regards Paul, Jefferson provides an odd reason for discounting the offender list in 1 Corinthians 6:9, which includes an indictment of “soft men” (malakoi, see above) and “men who lie with a male” (arsenokoitai). His reason is that “these terms are injected along with” other sexual offenders, namely, “the sexually immoral” (pornoi, not limited to fornicators contra Jefferson), adulterers, and (in context) persons who engage in incest (chap. 5) and sex with a prostitute (6:15-17). “In other words, Paul is addressing ALL deviant sexual and immoral behavior, not just that of a same-sex variety.” To this argument I can only say: So what? Who ever claimed that Christian sexual ethics were opposed only to homosexual practice?
Jefferson then claims that “it is unclear whether [Romans 1:26-27] truly is a condemnation of a specific practice.” This is a bizarre claim. Paul specifically refers to females exchanging “the natural use [i.e. of the male] for that which is contrary to nature”; and, “likewise” to males “leaving behind the natural use of the woman” and becoming “inflamed in their yearning for one another, males with males.” That doesn’t sound ambiguous to me.
Moreover, there are eight points of correspondence, in the same tripartite order, between the creation text in Genesis 1:26-27 and Paul’s argument in Romans 1:23-27. This indicates that Paul is thinking of homosexual practice as a violation of the creation of “male and female” in Genesis 1:27. The nature argument is a common one for Greco-Roman moralists seeking to indict homosexual practice on absolute grounds. It seems to me that we should make a distinction between Jefferson wanting Romans 1:26-27 to be unclear and the actual clarity of the text itself.
Biblical arguments and our civil law
The final argument that Jefferson makes (which is listed first in his article but which I am treating last) is that “the institution of marriage is a secular and social institution.” As such, Jefferson argues, referring to what the Bible says about homosexual practice is irrelevant for civil law. There are two problems with this view. One is that people of faith are shaped morally by their religious beliefs and have a right to vote such beliefs, just as atheists or those philosophically inclined have a right to vote according to their respective ideologies. This is especially so in cases where these beliefs are not restricted to a single sectarian religious community and where what is “imposed” is not incarceration and fines but a withholding of public approval. On both counts opposition to “gay marriage” passes muster. The roots of moral reasoning in Western civilization derive largely from religious foundations. Indeed, discussion of “morality” seems out of place in a context where there is no higher power. Without God, ethics are reduced to utilitarian considerations.
An even more important point is that one can make a reasonable case against “gay marriage” on secular philosophical grounds; that is, by an argument from nature and by appeal to analogies already in place in our civil law. The Bible itself points in this direction with the argument from nature in Romans 1:24-27, an argument based on the compatible structures of male and female that should be obvious even to those without Scripture; structures that requires a deliberate suppression of truth to override.
Put simply, if the logic of a heterosexual union is that the two halves of the sexual spectrum, male and female, unite to form a single sexual whole, the “logic” of a homosexual union is that two half-males unite to form a single whole male or two half-females unite to form a single whole female. By implication homosexual unions dishonor the integrity of the stamp of maleness on males and of femaleness on females by effectively treating their sex or gender as only half intact, needing to be supplemented structurally by union with someone of the same sex. The closest analogies in civil law to a prohibition of “gay marriage” are laws prohibiting the marriage of close kin and the marriage of three or more persons.
As regards the incest analogue, homosexual unions are unions between persons who are too much structurally alike, in terms of sex or gender, much as an incestuous union is wrong because it involves two persons too much alike on the level of kinship identity. The analogy is often rejected by proponents of homosexual unions. They claim that incest is always harmful because it involves children and leads to birth defects. However, incest can (and has) been conducted by consenting adults. Moreover, many kinds of incestuous unions would not entail procreation: incestuous bonds where at least one party is infertile, active birth-control measures are taken, or the participants are of the same sex. In short, incest does not produce intrinsic measurable harm (not even when procreation occurs); disproportionately high rates, yes, but intrinsic, no.
Homosexual unions likewise experience disproportionately high rates of measurable harm, not intrinsic measurable harm. Moreover, this harm corresponds to gender type. Male homosexual activity, even relative to lesbian unions, is characterized by extraordinarily high numbers of sex partners lifetime and by extraordinarily high rates of sexually transmitted infections. Female homosexual activity, even relative to male homosexuality, is characterized by relationships of lower longevity and higher rates of some mental health problems (not surprising, perhaps, in view of the greater expectations that women generally place on relationships for self-worth and fulfillment). The existence of disparities of harm between male and female homosexual relationships, corresponding to gender differences, is a sign that some harm stems simply from the same-sexness of homosexuality. In homosexual relationships the extremes of a given sex are not moderated and the gaps in the sexual self are not filled, at least not as well, on the whole, as heterosexual relationships.
To withhold marriage from all near-kin unions (certainly between a parent and an adult child or between full siblings) one has to develop a philosophical argument about intrinsic harm. The only such argument of which I am aware involves the recognition that procreative difficulties are not the root harm of incestuous unions but only the symptom of the root harm. The root harm is the attempt to unite sexually with someone who is too much of an embodied same, not enough of a complementary other. If the procreative difficulties associated with incestuous bonds are the clue as to their root harm, so too the structural incapacity for procreation on the part of homosexual bonds should indicate to observers a similar root harm
As regards the polyamory (multiple-partner) analogue, we have noted above in our discussion of Jesus’ rationale that a prohibition of polygamy is grounded ultimately in the natural law argument that the existence of two and only two primary sexes-complementary to each other in terms of anatomy, physiology, and psychology-implies a limitation of two persons to a sexual union at any one time. If we don’t grant marriage licenses to three or more persons in a concurrent sexual relationship, why should we grant marriage licenses to homosexual unions that disregard the foundational twoness of the sexes on which the limitation of two persons is based? There are examples of polyamorous unions going on in the United States that are adult-consensual, loving, and without measurable harm.
Of course, my point here is not that the state should issue marriage licenses to close kin or to three or more persons concurrently. My point is rather that, since adult-committed incestuous unions and polyamorous unions are analogically related to adult-committed homosexual unions, one shouldn’t approve of granting marriage licenses to the latter case unless one is also willing to grant marriage licenses to the former two cases. People can choose to be inconsistent-perhaps, let’s hope so in this case. However, that doesn’t change their inconsistency into consistency.
And make no mistake about it: Homosexual unions are a more foundational violation of sexual ethics than incestuous or polyamorous unions since the latter two are logically extrapolated from the former rather than the other way around. The recognition of the need for embodied complementarity and acceptance of the essential duality of a male-female bond is prior to any conclusions that may or may not be reached about incest and polyamory.
This is certainly true about the development of sexual ethics in ancient Israel, early Judaism, and early Christianity. Loopholes for incest and polyamory were revoked over time. But in the biblical record there never were any loopholes allowable for homosexual practice. The most basic division for human sexual behavior is the differentiation of the sexes, not differentiation along the lines of kinship or limitation of number.
In conclusion, Lee Jefferson doesn’t want the Bible to have anything to “say” about “gay marriage.” His want then infuses his interpretation of the biblical text, skewing the results. He attempts to make his case by arguing that “the Bible is not specific, literate, or even concerned with what we call same-sex orientation or gay marriage,” when in fact we have seen the exact opposite to be the case. He blames proponents of a male-female requirement for not investigating the “ancient cultural context.” Yet he himself appears not to know it.
Jefferson thinks that people should “quit focusing on what the Bible didactically ‘says’”-a contention that ignores the helpful contribution of the Bible throughout Western civilization to a whole host of social justice issues. I suspect that what Jefferson is really upset about is seeing the Bible applied to the specific issue of homosexual practice. So applied it simply doesn’t cut in the direction that he would like to see it cut. Nor, I might add, do secular considerations suggest a need to divert from that witness.