Medieval Catholic Churches Performed A Type Of Gay Marriage

“Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child.” —Cicero

In A Nutshell

Gay marriage has long been a controversial topic, but it wasn’t always that way. Textual evidence from between the 8th and 16th centuries has shown that the Catholic Church not only felt that same-sex unions were all right, but performed the ceremonies. Texts refer to the ceremonies as “brotherment,” in which two men swear to share bread, wine, and purse for the rest of their lives.

The Whole Bushel

For those people who oppose the idea of gay marriage, it’s often the Catholic Church that gets summoned up to defend the idea that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. But texts and illustrations from the Middle Ages suggest that the church’s point of view on gay marriage used to be quite different than what it is today.

There are numerous texts from between the 8th and 16th centuries that discuss ceremonies, called “brotherments,” in which two men are joined in a same-sex union. Although the ceremonies were slightly different when two men were involved, many of the elements were the same as those found in descriptions of heterosexual marriages. Their hands would be placed on the Gospel, there would be the lighting of candles, the binding of hands, and usually a kiss to make the ceremony official.

(All existing records document these ceremonies as involving men, although it’s doubtful that ceremonies involving two women would have been thought of as important enough to document in a way in which would survive today.)

Whether or not these ceremonies meant the same thing then that they do today is up for debate. Some researchers have put forth the idea that the ceremonies were a civil union meant to join two men—related or not related—in a platonic, legal relationship. This could include two brothers vowing to fairly share their family’s inheritance, or two patriarchs similarly swearing to combine their family’s riches.

Others point to the similarities between these same-sex unions and heterosexual marriage ceremonies as evidence that many were, in fact, what we think of today as gay marriages. Some of the texts instruct the two who are now joined to “be united not by nature but by faith” and to “love each other in joy without injury or hatred all the days of their lives.”

Texts also document who went through these ceremonies. While there were certainly brother and blood relatives that swore before the church to share their family’s wealth and used the ceremony to enter into a legally binding agreement, there were also a number of unrelated men who were previously unmarried, which points to evidence that the ceremonies were used as binding marriage contracts between two people involved in a romantic relationship.

There’s also more evidence going back even further that supports the idea that gay marriage was a much more socially accepted tradition than it might be today. All historians have to do is go back to Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, where iconography depicting two men participating in a marriage ceremony was often used in early Christian ceremonies.

So what changed?

St. Thomas Aquinas was thought to be one of the most outspoken opponents of gay marriage. In the late 13th century, he preached the idea that marriage was for the sole purpose of creating children, and therefore should only exist between a man and a woman. It’s thought that the church, in the midst of its many transformations during the medieval period and the Middle Ages, redefined what it had always thought of as a marriage.

And that’s probably why the idea of a church-sanctioned same-sex union has long been buried in the annals of history. History is more frequently told through the lens of the present-day, even when it doesn’t quite line up with current beliefs.

Show Me The Proof

NY Times: Beliefs; A study of medieval rituals in same-sex unions raises a question: what were they solemnizing?
io9: The early Christian Church performed gay marriages
LiveScience: Gay Civil Unions Sanctioned in Medieval Europe

  • CSisonweb

    Interesting, looks like St Thomas was a dick. Pun intended.

    • Before you know it, they’ll say the only purpose of love & sex is to create children.

      • rincewind

        Depressing…..

      • Steve Nickell

        The only purpose of sex, as such, is in fact, reproduction. It is the sole means by which our species naturally reproduces. The fact that we can derive pleasure from this doesn’t change a thing. That’s why we buy condoms and so forth, so we can enjoy sex without the entirely natural effect of having children.

      • Carlos Fantastico

        They already do.

    • TheMadHatter

      It technically was not gay marriage. It was a form made specifically for homosexuals. I’d be fine with that, and I know some others who would. It is the prospect of simply calling it marriage and going through those same motions that is opposed. If they want to bring back something akin to this or even the pirate form, I don’t think I’d be so opposed.

      • Atlas

        Although I’m Pro gay marriage, and I can’t say I agree with your stance on the subject, thank you for being kind and respectful when voicing your opinions, seriously thank you. We need more people like you in the comments section of Listverse, people who can kindly voice their opinions and respect the opinions of others. What I’m trying to say is you’re a cool dude MadHatter 🙂 have a fine day my good man!

      • 1DireWolf

        and the same legal protections?

    • lbatfish

      Then wouldn’t that make him “St. John Thomas”?

  • S.A.G. Kavin

    Not quite 🙂 cliopolitical(dot)blogspot(dot)in/2007/08/medieval-gay-marriage-not-quite(dot)html

    • lbatfish

      Decent article, even if I don’t share the same conclusion.

      But if you wanted people to read it, why did you sub in the “(dots)” in the URL, thus making the act of getting to it more difficult?

  • Check

    Marriage has always been for more than just creating children, even more than for love. Marriage has been the result of business agreements, family bondings, keeping the royal blood pure, bringing two kingdoms together, religious obligations, debts, etc.

    • Logan Cole Rieck

      I believe what was meant was in a Christian, God-sanctified way as understood by the Catholic Church.

      • 1DireWolf

        The bible standard for marriage:

        • Kamaralazman

          All of these are nice – especially the the 2 and 4 to the left – except marrying a skeleton though, that is just creepy.

  • Rijul Ballal

    Very cool,lets hope someone in the Vatican decides they should restart this tradition…

    • Atlas

      I’m not Catholic, but Pope Francis seems like a rather nice guy, so yes, hopefully they will!

      • Powdered_Sugar

        Sorry, Pope Francis is Catholic, despite whatever the media makes him out to be. This will not be changing, I’d stake my life one it, and as a Catholic do stake my soul on it. Niceness has nothing to do with Morality or Justice, nor does it have any affect on theology.

        • Happy Pants

          So what exactly are you staking your soul on? Other people’s behavior that has nothing and I mean NOTHING to do with you?

          • Powdered_Sugar

            It has to do with me insofar as it influences the overall flow and direction of society. For example, with the advent of homosexual weddings, we’ve seen a slew of lawsuits wherein the homosexual parties are attempting to force private business owners to serve them, despite it being against the owner’s deeply-held religious convictions. You cannot say it does not affect anyone except the homosexual individuals until they are willing to be as tolerant as they demand that others be. The recent deboggle with Duck Dynasty is another prime example of the intolerance of those who promote homosexual ideals. All the man said was that he promotes the traditional view of marriage, and there was an explosion of backlash against him; again, for nothing more than stating his opinion. No, I would counter you that it has a great deal of affect on everyone, not just the homosexual individuals.

            As for what I’m staking my soul on, that is simple, the correctness of the Catholic Church as God’s true church.

          • Hillyard

            There are laws in the USA that prevent discrimination. These laws apply to everyone, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. Those that will discriminate are going to find themselves on the wrong side of a federal lawsuit. Federal, not state, as those private business have interstate customers and therefore, by discriminating are breaking Federal law.

          • Powdered_Sugar

            Federal laws have absolutely no affect on whether or not something is moral, nor shall we bow to federal laws if the conflict with God’s. The Church has suffered the government’s whip more than once, and has always survived and even thrived. This time shall be no different.

            As for discrimination, why should their desire to engage in a farce superseded my constitutionally protected religious freedoms?

          • lbatfish

            However, your rights don’t supercede the rights of others.

          • Powdered_Sugar

            No one has the legal right to marry, it is found nowhere in the Constitution. The right to freedom of religion, however, is found quite clearly laid out in the Constitution, and therefore takes precedent. In terms of this thread of discussion, I am not talking about the right to deny people the “right to marry,” I am discussing the fact that a homosexual should not be able to force a business owner to take part in a ceremony which violates their deeply held beliefs. To put it in perspective, that would be like trying to force Richard Dawkins or Steven Hawking to teach that God exists. It violates the core of what they believe. Whether you agree with it or not, you should respect a person’s right to practice their faith.

          • lbatfish

            You have every right to NOT marry a person of your own gender. Just as you have every right to not marry someone of a different race. But the “right” to discriminate against others because their beliefs differ from your own in either of those issues . . . well, at that point, your “religious rights” just got trumped. Sorry.

          • Happy Pants

            Good luck with ignoring federal laws when they conflict with YOUR god’s. Ever heard of separation of church and state?

          • Happy Pants

            So you would have supported people denying service to black people as well I’m guessing. As long as it was based on their “deeply held religious convictions”

            As for the Duck Dynasty dude, just as many people were offended by his quote about black people being happier during Jim Crowe days. Funny how you failed to mention that. A racist and a bigot is a great example of what you yourself seem to be.

            Also “God’s true church” Laughing my f*cking ass off. Too funny.

          • FemelleChevalier

            You’re stating your belief as if it’s the absolute belief of many Catholics to place bigotry above being a considerate human being.

            You don’t speak for us, sir/ma’am. A Catholic will abhor your analogy on refusing a fellow human being simply because he/she is “different”.

        • FemelleChevalier

          “Pope Francis is Catholic” is not really a definitive reasoning of what he will or will not do.

  • Andyman7714

    “…same-sex union has long been buried in the annals of history.” I smirked at that a bit.

    • lbatfish

      I’m glad you were here to catch that — I totally missed it! 🙁

  • Powdered_Sugar

    For anyone who is even remotely interested in good scholarship, and the actual historical basis (or lack thereof) of these claims, I welcome you to watch a video which debunks this. Anyone else, well, feel free to ignore facts, that is your right.

    This video was done by Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin, and points out the scholarly misinterpretations, and outright misrepresentation of historical facts and images used to support this view, which has no basis in any Catholic writing or teaching dating back to the Church Fathers, and which has been routinely dismissed and condemned since it was published.

    http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/jimmyakinpodcast/~5/S41Ny2XcomA/Boswell.m4v

    (Sorry, I can’t figure out how to paste links, my apologies.)

    I hope everyone who watches takes something away from it about appropriate scholarship, and doing your research before posting stuff like this. The Catholic Church has always, and will always condemn homosexual actions as intrinsically evil. This has been true since Jesus Christ walked on Earth, and will be true until His second coming.

    God Bless!

    • Steve Nickell

      I am thankful that someone spoke up about this “scholarly” travesty. It’s just another attempt to rewrite the past in favor of the present.

      • lbatfish

        Or . . . re-writing the past back to how it was in the past, as opposed to how it’s been re-written in the more recent past (which was then carried over into the present).

    • 1DireWolf

      I don’t see where a group of people’s opinions “debunks” another group of people’s opinions. Unless one of the groups has a member or members who were, in fact, part of the medieval Catholic church, then it is all just their take on the situation.

      • Powdered_Sugar

        If the video I linked to gave opinions, I would agree with you, however, it doesn’t. It outlines the facts that were misinterpreted or misrepresented, and give their true purpose and nature in history.

    • S.A.G. Kavin

      Nice one. I listened to Jimmy too. Jimmy is Wright.

  • Logan Cole Rieck

    I seriously doubt that such things were an equivalent to gay marriage as nowadays is seen. The Bible is quite clear on the issue of marriage and its significance for Christians and I doubt the Catholic Church would have acted contrary to it in dogma.

    (Wars and other like things are another issue but irrelevant in this matter).

    • lbatfish

      Dogma is an accumulated commodity — the further you go back in time, the less of it there was to act contrary to.

  • Exiled Phoenix

    I honestly have zero interest in gay marriage.. that’s why I don’t have a gay wedding lol. It is not my place to judge. I find those that use their religion to judge others to be quite stupid.
    (I don’t need the promise of reward from some ancient text to compel me to show civility to others)

    • Powdered_Sugar

      It is important to distinguish between using religion to judge someone (i.e Wesboro Baptist, for example) and using religion as a grounds for morality, and a basis for civilized society. The Catholic Church does not judge those who engage in homosexual activity, but we do judge their actions. (Love the sinner, hate the sin). When the Church says that those who are engaging in such behaviors, or promoting other intrinsic evil such as abortion should abstain from receiving communion it is not a judgment on the state of the person’s soul, but rather a step taken to ensure that the proper respect is given to the Sacrament.

      God Bless. (If that’s taken to sound admonishing or condescending, I apologize. In reading it, I see how it can come off that way, but it really is not meant to.)

      • Lisa 39

        You said that well, nothing condescending 🙂

      • Hillyard

        Since when is the Catholic Church less judgemental than the WBC? You cannot judge an action without judging those that commit those acts. There is no ‘sin’ without a ‘sinner.’ As far as using religion as a ground for civilized society, look at the theocracies in the world, Saudi Arabia, Iran and tell me just how well that works. BTW the argument that ‘Well that is Islam, not Christianity’ doesn’t fly. Power corrupts, christian, muslim, jew etc alike.

        • Powdered_Sugar

          So, you are saying that a person is completely indistinguishable from their acts. In other words, their actions are all that define them? Addicts are nothing more than addicts, alcoholics are nothing more than their alcoholism, homosexuals are entirely defined by their homosexuality?

          As for being more judgmental than the WBC, if you genuinely believe that then you are sadly out of touch with reality, and with what the Church teaches. We never condemn and individual, no matter how grievous their sin, Nor do we say that any man is damned. All the Church does is promote the moral law, and seek to teach and uphold it whenever possible.

          You are correct, there is no sin without a sinner, but unlike you, apparently, the Church is more than happy to make a distinction between the two. All people are sinners, but it is the struggle to resist sin which defines us, not the sin itself (unless we allow it to). As such, we will continue to love the sinner while admonishing them of their sin. It is quite easy to do, and we see no reason to change it. We will also continue to offer aide to those who seek it, homosexual or not.

          As for theocracies, the only countries which still have a true theocracy are Muslim, and despite your protestations, there is a sever and distinct difference between Christianity and Islam. Whether you chose to acknowledge it or not is of no concern to me, but the core teachings of the two are undeniably different, and Islam teaches several things which are in direct opposition to Christianity, and Catholicism in particular (not the least of which being the divinity of Christ, and the proper manner with which to address those whom disagree with you.) As such, I will happily say that the nature of those theocracies is derived from Islam, and that Islam is the core problem beneath their utter disregard for the dignity and worth of all humanity.

          While it is true that the Church once held Theocratic authority over a small portion of Italy, I would welcome you to try to prove that it abused that authority. Before you begin, I will go ahead and take care of the normal responses people give to this statement.
          – The Spanish Inquisition. While it is true that Church authorities did conduct the investigations into Anti-Church activities during this period, sentencing, method and carrying out of any form of punishment beyond excommunication (a spiritual, non-physical punishment which carries no obligation, and it intended as a call to repentance) were left entirely to the state, and were neither mandated nor enforced by the Church. Additionally, despite oft-exaggerated death tolls, only between 3,00 and 5,00 people were killed during the entirety of the Inquisition. To put taht into perspective, that amounts to less than one execution per month of the inquisition; in contrast to that, the Syrian Civil war has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 140,000 people (approx. 3,888 people per month). (For further reading on the subject, I direct you to: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0520066308/ , http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0300078803/ , and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMkjvCKTK3Q&list=PL9F2B35865253BA80 . A small note, that last link is a documentary created by the BBC, a station which can generally be called more hostile towards Catholicism.)

          – The Crusades. Historically speaking, the first through third crusades were done in an attempt to regain lands which were forcibly taken by Islamic militants when they invaded the Holy Land. More important than the land, however, was the Church’s desire to halt the forced conversion to Islam those who remained in the area faced. The Church has never agreed with forced conversion, nor shall it ever (And don’t even get started on James II, who’s forced conversions were done in defiance of Church teaching). There were later Crusades, conducted by monarchs rather than the Church, which certain did undesirable things, but you can no more blame them on the Church than you could the atrocities of the Soviet Union.

          Those are the two big ones, along with James II, who was not operating under the imperative of the Church, nor were the conquistadors when they massacred the Aztecs.

          It is true that power corrupts, and the Church has made its fair share of mistakes, but it owns up to them, and openly apologizes for them. We are not a museum for saints, but rather a hospital for sinners. Our opposition to gay marriage, however,is not one of those mistakes, nor shall it ever be considered one and apologized for. Morality does not change with the times.

          God Bless.

          • Hillyard

            …the Church has made its fair share of mistakes, but it owns up to them, and openly apologizes for them. True, after more than 500 years, the church apologized to Galileo. There is still a lot of catching up to do. So go on, continue being a good little Stepford Catholic and remember when Father Bumlover has you bent over the altar that God hates the sin, but not the sinner. Hopefully that and some Vaseline will help.

          • Powdered_Sugar

            It’s nice to see that sarcasm and spite have replaced good discussion…

            Galileo:

            http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-galileo-controversy
            http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/the-anti-catholic%E2%80%99s-trump-card

            As for having a lot of catching up to do, and given the nature of the rest of your comment, I’m assuming you’re speaking of the sexual abuse scandal. In case you were unaware, being that you are not Catholic and being that media outlets tend not to discuss it, the Church under Pope Emeritus Benedict took great strides towards ensure that such abuses do not happen again, including the creation of new Canon Law which provides for the proper methodology for such cases, and for turning it over to the proper authorities. Benedict also de-frocked (removed from authority) over 400 priests related to the scandal in the last two years of his tenure as Pope. While that number is surely significant, I’d like to point out that it amount to less than 1% of the total world population of Catholic priests. While not dismissing the problem or saying that it doesn’t matter, it is not the overwhelming and super-prevalent issue the media makes it out to be. If you are interested, Catholic Answers has done a number of radio shows on the issue where they allows those who are both critical and supportive of the Church to call in and voice their concerns. You may learn something fomr them, should you chose to listen to them.

            http://www.catholic.com/radio/shows/responding-to-the-sexual-abuse-crisis-4645
            http://www.catholic.com/radio/shows/double-standard-media-coverage-of-the-sex-abuse-scandal-8738
            http://www.catholic.com/radio/shows/double-standard-media-coverage-of-the-sex-abuse-scandal-7352

            God Bless.

          • dmomema

            I am not Catholic. I know the oldest christian church in existence takes responsibility for a very long list of horrendous atrocities. I also know that men are responsible for these sins, committed in the name of this church. I have seen that people in authority have misused their power in order to protect these criminals. I have seen this in other churches as well. The sinner repents, does it again, repents, does it again Etc. Etc. This system doesn’t work for some sinners. Child molesters in particular. Why don’t the church authorities fix this error.

          • dmomema

            Your numbers are immaterial in the context that you put forth. Even one death attributed to the Catholic church during the inquisitions or the Crusades or any other organization is still murder. No sin is more grievous than another to the Lord.

      • Ian Moone

        But marriage is no longer a religious institution. So therefore they Catholic Church’s (or any other religious institution) opinion doesn’t matter.

      • Koki

        Thou shall not judge…. Period… Not only when it suits your needs to do so.

        • Powdered_Sugar

          Thou shall not Judge refers specifically to not making a declaration about the state of a person’s soul or their final destination. Judgment of that nature belongs solely to God. We are perfectly free, however, to a judge a person’s actions on their merits.

          • Koki

            The soul is an essential part of a person and cannot be separated from a person for the purposes of judging. When a person’s soul is judged in death, it is that person’s actions while living that are examined. So by judging a person’s actions you’re declaring yourself equal to God.

          • S.A.G. Kavin

            You are correct.

  • mo

    They were all right or alright?

    • lbatfish

      Depends on which version (nationality) of English you prefer.

      Like with “color/colour” and “center/centre”.

  • Hillyard

    While the Church undoubtly did not condone same sex marriage as we know it now, I get the feeling that a lot of these brotherments amounted to the same thing. Selective memory is a useful tool for those that want to claim an historical basis for their bigotry.

    • Powdered_Sugar

      Actually, the ceremony is one which is still occasionally used today, and in no way represented a marital arrangement, nor did it confer any of the benefits of a marital arrangement. The underlying purpose of the ceremony is to formally express a strong brotherly or sisterly love between two individuals. A modern equivalent would be people enacting a blood-brotherhood arrangement. Contrary to what our culture mistakenly believes, two men can have a deep love for each other without it being homosexual in nature.

      (This is discussed in this video: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/jimmyakinpodcast/~5/S41Ny2XcomA/Boswell.m4v )

      Now, is it possible that individuals used this ceremony as a form of marriage in their own mind? Sure. Does that mean that it was how the ceremony was intended by the Church? Not in the slightest.

      As for your claim that the Church promotes bigotry, let’s look at that:

      The Church neither mocks, nor is intolerant towards those who have homosexual attraction, She also does not deny aide to those who are practicing homosexual acts. What She does do is maintain that sexuality is ordered towards procreation, and that misuse of that sexuality is gravely sinful. Since homosexual activities can in absolutely no way be naturally ordered towards procreation, they are therefor necessarily a misuse of the sexual function, and hence are gravely sinful. This has nothing to do with a feeling of superiority, nor with a desire to deride or suppress, but is instead derived from the desire that all people work towards uniting themselves with God, an end which requires submission to God’s will. As such, the Church will always promote what is morally good, and denounce that which is morally evil. If you want bigoted, look at Wesboro Baptist and their ilk, who say that all homosexuals are damned, or look at the Muslims with their Shariah law, who called for all homosexuals to be brutally murdered. Contrast that with the Church who, while remaining firm on its moral teachings, never denies aide nor comfort to those who come earnestly seeking it, regardless of their sexual orientation, political views, race, gender, etc.

      I hopes that this brief discussion has helped your understanding. If not, feel free to join us on the forums at Catholic.com to discuss the issue further, we’d love to have you ^^

      God Bless.

      • Hillyard

        Did you read my comment? I said that the church did not condone same sex marriage, but some of these arrangements undoubtedly amounted to the same thing. As far as the church not denying aid, mocking or intolerant towards those who have homosexual attraction, can you say Inquisition? Condoned by the Catholic Church not only intolerant towards homosexuals, but Jews, protestants, Muslims etc. Once again selective memory, and a selective vision of the present. JP2 that everyone wants to make a saint spoke out against gays and using condoms, while remaining mostly silent on the sexual abuse by priests until the media forced his hand. Please do not insult my intelligence by suggesting that he didn’t know. As far as other religions are concerned, all fundamentalist sects are equally guilty of racism, sexism, homophobia or some other type of bigotry. I’m not saying atheists like myself walk on water, but we don’t turn to a myth to justify our faults.

      • rel1861

        “the Church will always promote what is morally good, and denounce that which is morally evil”

        How does this statement apply to the Catholic Church’s attempts to cover up the abuse of children by its priests?

  • Happy Pants

    Me thinks St. Thomas Aquinas doth protest too much.

  • Koki

    Nice one. So glad that the article remains somewhat neutral:)

  • Kamaralazman

    This is just silly. You cant use a modern hetero norm and compare it to medieval times.
    “History is more frequently told through the lens of the present-day, even when it doesn’t quite line up with current beliefs.”
    This is exactly what you are doing here pal. Of course there was no sex involved in the above things, this is more of a blood brother thing. Sex was not even suppose to take place between a man and a women if it didn’t result in a child. The meaning of romance developed in the 18th century during the Romanticism with Goethe etc. This is more a question of loyalty.

  • Ed Bond

    “in which two men swear to share bread, wine, and purse for the rest of their lives.” I see no mention in your article or in any text where these two men also swear to share a bed. It is possible for men to be bonded in this way without sex being involved. I realize that this concept may startle some people, but sex has not always been the bedrock of western civilization.