There are some reasons for the hostility toward homosexuality which now seem characteristic of the Christian community, and I want to mention them. First of all, I want to dispose of what might seem the most likely primary reason for hostility toward homosexuality-namely, general opposition to non-procreative sexuality. There was indeed on the part of many early Christians a feeling of hostility toward any form of sexuality which was not potentially procreative. This cannot, however, be shown to stem from Christian principles. Among other things, there is not a word within the Old Testament or the New about non-procreative sexuality among married persons, and, indeed, most Jewish commentators have agreed that anything was licit between husband and wife. It is a well-established principle in several social science disciplines that there is, however, a classrelated prejudice against non-procreative sexual acts, and one would expect to find this among lower class Christians as among any lower class group of the society. Among theologians, explicit rejection of all non-procreative sexuality, does not relate directly to attitudes toward gay people. The theologians of the early church were attempting to impress on all Christians that they had to see every act of heterosexual intercourse as the potential creation of a child. No effective means of birth control was known in this world (except for abstinence)-not even the rhythm method. The only way to avoid having children was to kill or abandon them. Theologians therefore wished to persuade Christian parents that they had to be responsible for the creation of a child every time they had sexual pleasure. The only other alternatives in their world-the world in which the early theology of the church was formulated-were morally unacceptable. Now the original aim of this approach, it appears, was only to protect children. It was not to attack homosexuality. Indeed, it was a very long time before this notion spilled over into homosexuality, but it eventually did.
As late as the eleventh and twelfth centuries, there appears to be no conflict between a Christian life and homosexuality. Gay life is everywhere in the art, poetry, music, history, etc. of the 11th and 12th centuries. The most popular literature of the day even heterosexual literature, is about samesex lovers of one sort or another. Clerics were at the forefront of this revival of the gay culture. St. Aelred, for instance, writes of his youth as a time when he thought of nothing but loving and being loved by men. He became a Cistercian abbot, and incorporated his love for men into his Christian life by encouraging monks to love each other, not just generally, but individually and passionately He cited the example of Jesus and St. John as guidance for this. 'Jesus himself," he said, "in everything like us. patient and compassionate with others in every matter, Transfigured this sort of love through the expression of his own love. for he allowed only one - not al l- to recline on his breast as a sign of his special love; and the closer they were, the more copiously did the secrets of their heavenly marriage impart the sweet smell of their spiritual chrism to their love."
After the twelfth century Christian tolerance and acceptance of gay love seems to disappear with remarkable rapidity. The writings of St. Aelred disappeared because they were kept locked up in Cistercian monasteries until about eight years ago, when for the first time Cistercians could again read them. Beginning about 1150, for reasons I cannot adequately explain, there was a great upsurge in popular intolerance of gay people. There were also at this time violent outbursts against Jews, Muslims, and witches. Women were suddenly excluded from power structures to which they had previously had access-no longer able, for example, to attend universities in which they had previously been enrolled. double monasteries for men and women were closed. There was suspicion of everyone. In 1 180 the Jews were expelled from France.
The change was rapid. In England in the 12th century there were no laws against Jews and they occupied prominent positions, but by the end of the 13th century, sleeping with a Jew was equated with sleeping with an animal or with murder, and in France Jews, according to St. Louis, were to be killed on the spot if they questioned the Christian faith. During this time there are many popular diatribes against gay people as well, suggesting that they molest children, violate natural law, are bestial? and bring harm to nations which tolerate them. Within a single century. between the period of 1250 and 1350, almost every European state passed civil laws demanding death for a single homosexual act. This popular reaction affected Christian theology a great deal. Throughout the 12th century homosexual relations, had, at worst, been comparable to heterosexual fornication for married people, and, at best, not sinful at all. During the 13th century, because of this popular reaction, writers like Thomas Aquinas tried to portray homosexuality as one of the very worst sins, second only to murder.
It is very difficult to describe how this came about. St. Thomas tried to show that homosexuality was opposed to nature in some way, the most familiar objection being that nature created sexuality for procreation and using it for any other purpose would violate nature. Aquinas was much too smart for this argument. In the Summa Contra Gentiles he asks, "Is it sinful to walk on your hands when nature intended them for something else?" No, indeed it is not sinful, so he shifted ground. This is obviously not the reason that homosexuality is sinful; he looks for another. First he tried arguing that homosexuality must be sinful because it impedes the reproduction of the human race. But this argument also failed, for, Aquinas noted in the Summa Theologica, "a duty may be of two sorts: it may be enjoined on the individual as a duty which cannot be ignored without sin, or it may be enjoined upon a group. In the latter cases no one individual is obligated to fulfill the duty. The commandment regarding procreation applies to the human race as a whole! which is obligated to increase physically. It is therefore sufficient for the race if some people undertake to reproduce physically." Moreover, Aquinas admitted in the Summa Theologica that homosexuality was absolutely natural to certain individuals and therefore inculpable. In what sense, then, could he argue that it was unnatural? In a third place he concedes that the term "natural" in fact has no moral significance, but it is simply a term applied to things which are strongly disapproved of. "Homosexuality," he says, "is called 'the unnatural vice' by the common people, and hence it may be said to be unnatural." This was not an invention of Aquinas'. It was a response to popular prejudices of the time. It did not derive its authority from the Bible or from any previous tradition of Christian morality, but it eventually became part of Catholic theological thought. These attitudes have remained basically unchanged because there has been no popular support for change in the matter. The public has continued to feel hostility to gay people and the church has been under no pressure to reexamine the origins of its teachings on homosexuality.