“Two Men in Bed Together”: a Failure of Exegesis

In a world of change it is (almost) comforting to see how some things can always be counted on to stay the same—such as Sanfilippo’s Orthodoxy in Dialogue blog, which consistently treats its faithful readers with repeated attempts to legitimize the sin that the Church has always condemned. Answering every one of his blog posts point by point would require something like a full-time job, and most of us are already fully employed. The points that Sanfilippo makes in his recent post “From the Fathers: the Kingdom of Heaven is Like…Two Men in Bed Together?” can be boiled down to two: 1. scientific advances have now shown that past approaches to homosexual behaviour are out-dated and should be scrapped; and 2. the images and parables of the Scripture and the Fathers use nuptial imagery, and this legitimizes homosexual behaviour.

I will not deal with Sanfilippo’s first point at length, other than to note that the same dubious argumentation is now being advanced in some places to justify pedophilia (now being sanitized under the term “minor attraction”). I deny that science has much to say about the moral legitimacy of either form of sexuality or indeed of morality in general at all. Scientific research can document what people desire to do; it is beyond its competence to pronounce on the morality of these desires.

Of more interest is Sanfilippo’s argument about male-to-male sexuality (with his provocative image and title “two men in bed together”). Some of this article simply repeats material in his previous piece “Conjugal Friendship” at the Public Orthodoxy site, and the reader is referred to my response to that in a previous blog piece. Sanfilippo’s basic point in this article is that “the presence of male-male conjugal intimacy in our patristic tradition as a symbol of the mystical and eucharistic union of Christ with the individual male believer nullifies the irrational idée fixe of those Orthodox churchmen who insist that the Holy Fathers abhorred the mere thought of same-sex eroticism.”

In support of this idea he cites St. Maximus the Confessor’s words about the believer being “made worthy to lie with the Bridegroom Word in the chamber of the mysteries”. Since the Greek word for the one believing was in the masculine (“ο πιστευων; in the masculine”), Sanfilippo concludes that Maximus was offering a homosexual image of males climbing into a conjugal bed with Christ.

Sanfilippo also cites the words of St. Symeon the New Theologian. St. Symeon offered a parable of Christ welcoming the repentant sinner, conflating images drawn from the parable of the prodigal son with images drawn from the Song of Solomon, universally interpreted by the Church as an allegory of Christ and the soul of the believer. In Symeon’s parable, the King (i.e. Christ) welcomed the penitent, falling on his neck and kissing him (an image from the parable of the prodigal son; Luke 15:20) and then embracing him on his royal bed (an image drawn from Song of Solomon 1:2, 2:6).

Sanfilippo concludes from this that St. Symeon was open to the possibility of moral homosexual behaviour since he used these images in his parable to describe the restoration of the penitent. In short, according to Sanfilippo, “It seems all the more significant to ask why, in neither St. Maximus’ more subtle nor St. Symeon’s more explicit use of male-male love-making as a worthy simile for the Kingdom of God, those scriptural passages on which modern churchmen fixate every single time the subject of same-sex love is raised—Gen 19, Lev 18:22 and 20:13, Rom 1:26-27, 1 Cor 6:9-10—presented no deterrent whatever to these two Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church.” According to Sanfilippo, the Holy Fathers were not so opposed to “male-to-male conjugal intimacy” as we had supposed.

What are we to make of this? It is difficult to put the irony of it all to one side long enough to deconstruct Sanfilippo’s tangle of errors. Sts. Maximus and Symeon offered these images and parables to illustrate the glory of those repenting of sin, and Sanfilippo tries to appropriate them to justify the unrepentant behaviour which Maximus and Symeon would surely have condemned in the strongest terms possible. The idea of Maximus in the seventh century and Symeon in the eleventh century being possibly open to the morality of homosexual acts is a stunning bit of anachronism. Can any sober historian imagine these saints flying the rainbow flag in their day in the teeth of Scripture, Tradition, liturgy, and canonical legislation? This is, like John Boswell’s absurd tour de force, an example of scholarship prostrate before ideology.

It is also too small a broom to sweep away the clear meaning of the Scriptures cited in Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Sanfilippo’s argument revolves around the possible implications of patristic images and parables; these Scriptures reveal the clear import of homosexual acts. The churchmen Sanfilippo objects to do not “fixate” on these Scriptures; they simply cite them as authoritative, for the excellent reason that these texts are the only ones which clearly and unambiguously deal with the subject at hand. Why ruminate upon the possible significance of Maximus’ image when we have the unambiguous teaching of homosexuality’s actual significance? Sanfilippo has yet to deal with these texts in a convincing way. He can only suggest that scientific advances have now proven them wrong and out-dated.

Sanfilippo’s error is a basic one: he confounds metaphor with reality, and refuses to see that not everything in a metaphor is directly applicable to the reality of the human condition. It is as if one attempted to justify dishonesty in business because of Christ’s use of the dishonest steward in His parable in Luke 16:1-9, or judicial corruption because Christ compares God to an unjust judge in His parable in Luke 18:1-8. Christ took it for granted that dishonesty in business was worthy of condemnation, and assumed that His hearers would not conclude that dishonesty was acceptable after all because people in His parable praised the dishonest steward for his shrewdness. That dishonesty was a part of the parable, and necessary to make the parable’s point—which was not that dishonesty was acceptable, but that money was to be used and not hoarded.

It is the same with the parable of the unjust judge: Christ assumed that His hearers knew that judicial corruption was wrong. The corruption of the judge was there as part of the parable’s furniture, the point of which was not that judicial corruption was fine, but that perseverance in prayer was required. Christ used images of dishonesty and corruption in His parables because He assumed no one would be so stupid as to conclude from His words that dishonesty and corruption were okay after all.

It is exactly the same with the words of Maximus and Symeon. The image of Christ as the Bridegroom and the Church—both men and women—as His bride was ingrained in the culture in which these Fathers wrote. The notion that homosexual acts were sinful was similarly ingrained, and these two Holy Fathers assumed that none of their hearers would assume otherwise simply because they used nuptial images from Christ’s parables of the wedding banquet and from the Song of Solomon to illustrate their points. Sanfilippo insists on putting these images to a use that the Fathers would have emphatically repudiated, since they, along with the rest of the Church, could “fixate on” and read such Scriptures as Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-27, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.

There are other exegetical errors as well, such as investing Maximus’ ο πιστευων with an emphatically male significance. In fact, the masculine here simply indicates the universal, just as the Scriptural αδελφοι/ adelphoi/ “brothers” in Philippians 1:14 simply meant Christians, regardless of gender, and not just male Christians. Anyone of my vintage knows that. The old Anglican “prayer for all conditions of men” was offered for all people, not just for all males.

But such ineptitude pales beside Sanfilippo’s major error, which is to sexualize practically everything. To a hammer everything looks like a nail, and to Sanfilippo everything in Scripture and the Fathers looks sexual. How else to account for his extraordinary misreading of the Fathers and of the Scriptures? His analysis of the prophetic parable in Hosea 2:14f is a case in point. He writes, that in this text God “lures an eponymously male bride named Israel into the desert to seduce him/her”. Such a conclusion is breathtakingly perverse: in this passage, the people are spoken of as exclusively feminine throughout, and the name “Israel” is in fact not even mentioned.

It is the same with Sanfilippo’s conclusions derived from St. Paul’s use of nuptial imagery in Ephesians 5:23f. Sanfilippo concludes that Paul means that “Christ the Bridegroom ‘marries’—and takes into His marriage bed—not only the Church, but each of us individually; and not only each woman and girl, but also each man and boy” (italics original). Sanfilippo’s conclusion—which if taken at face value justifies not only homosexuality but also pedophilia (“also each man and boy”)—simply doesn’t follow. It is yet another example of his failure to distinguish metaphor from reality. Here the Church as a whole is typologically feminine, but this does not mean that the men within it are somehow female or feminine. Such a suggestion would overthrow the very point which Paul makes about husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the Church.

In the end, Sanfilippo seems to view everything in the Scriptures and the Fathers through the lens of an obsession with sexuality. It is not surprising that he reads David’s love for Jonathan in that light, for he reads everything in that light. In a saner time people knew that strong emotional attachments (such as David’s love for Jonathan) need not be sexual, and even that all physical interactions need be sexual. C. S. Lewis, writing in that saner time, was clear about that, and in his book The Four Loves he poured scorn on the notion that “all those hairy old toughs of centurions in Tacitus, clinging to one another and begging for last kisses when the legion was broken up” were homosexual. “If you can believe that,” Lewis declared, “you can believe anything.” Yet in a world like Sanfilippo’s where everything is sexualized and where homosexuality is seen everywhere, it is perhaps not that hard to believe. How else to explain “From the Fathers: the Kingdom of Heaven is Like…Two Men in Bed Together?”

 

Note: Since first posting this, I have removed by request from my piece an accompanying image drawn from the original Sanfilippo piece to which I was responding.  In so doing I have also inadvertently deleted comments that were posted.  I apologize to those who commented, and invite you to repost your comments if you wish.

22 comments:

  1. The reprobate mind of Giacomo Sanfilippo is incapable of properly discerning moral or theological issues. His rebellion against nature and God have clouded his judgment. His pathological obsession with homosexuality makes him distort everything through a deviant homosexualist world view that sexualizes everything, as Fr. Lawrence indicated.

    The harder Sanfilippo tries to justify his deviant thinking and self-identity, the further way from truth and reality he drifts. He has created his own private hell and has shut the doors from the inside. Only a genuine repentance and a full rejection of the homosexualist lies, can ever crack those doors open again. Yet that is precisely what he will not do and vehemently refuses to do. As each delusional article he writes shows he is moving further and from truth and Truth, and deeper and deeper into his own homosexualist make-believe alternate world (a nightmare).

  2. Here’s some teaching from Saint Paisios that explains the dynamics and spiritual warfare going on when men reject truth and the Truth and justify sin and falsehood. “He who justifies himself when he is wrong translates his heart into a devilish refuge, and will continually err, and will be crushed without use by his selfishness if he will not crush his “self.” He who justifies his passions is getting sicker and he is betrayed even by his cough.” – Saint Paisios the Anthonite

    1. You have heard it said “Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

      Think about it.

      When your Mother comes as the Bride that your Father has chosen. Do you dishonour her telling everyone you meet that your Father plans to marry someone that is not his equal? Do you tell everyone that she must repent and show you her credentials and her pedigree before you’ll open your heart to her? Do you dishonour her by telling all your comrades and anyone who will listen how offended you are with this marriage because she is a Samaritan, and demon possessed (John 8:48-49)? Do you smirk and show your disgust and contempt because she’s been married before and her children are of an adulterous generation and may even be adulterers, fornicators, eunuchs, and sexual perverts in your Righteous Elder Brother’s eye? Do you discredit her attempts to share her light, her wisdom and love with you, calling it “nonsense” and “folly”? Or do you welcome her into your sacred circle of colleagues and heed her when she says “Honour your father and your mother: and, YOU SHALL love your neighbour as yourself.”

      1. Ms. Turner, are you Orthodox? From looking at your author site, you appear to be some strange, heretical, Christian who is obsessed with Christ’s relationship to Mary Magdalene. The Orthodox church has always taught, as has every other Christian body until recently, that gay sex is incompatible with Christian discipleship. We teach this because we believe it to be the truth. You don’t have to accept that. You don’t have to be Orthodox. If you don’t believe Orthodoxy is true, then don’t join-or leave if you are already in. I don’t understand what you think you are accomplishing by coming to Orthodox sites and lecturing people who actually DO believe what the church teaches.

        1. Ms. Blackburn. I am not Orthodox. I am a member in good standing in the United Church of Canada. I am sorry if my attempt to dialogue with members of the Orthodox Church appears to have a lecturing tone . I believe very much in Ecumenism. The United Church of Canada and the Orthodox Church are members of the World Council of Churches. As your Ecumenical Sister, I would very much like to talk with you, not at you. I have a Masters Degree and a Doctorate. My Master’s Degree defended the belief that Mary Magdalene had a very special relationship with Jesus the Rabboni. So yes I am passionate about sharing my thesis with people who are members of the Ecumenical body of Christ. I have very dear friends who are Orthodox. I have gained insight from speaking with them and they have gained insight from speaking with me. Not all the denominations share the same view about Mary Magdalene’s relationship with Jesus. I pursued that subject for my thesis because I think her relationship to Jesus has caused divisions in the Church over the centuries, more so than issues such as Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry–the central issue of the 6th Assembly of the World Council of Churches held in Vancouver in 1983.

          1. Well, this is not my blog, so what dialogue you have with other people is not my call. I do not consider a church that ordains women or sexually active gay people to be a Christian body. I’m not particularly ecumenical, and certainly not with churches that have fallen that far off the rails. You will note, however, I’m not over on the blog of a UCC member trying to tell them how to live their religious lives.

        2. I’m with you, Teena.
          Pure heresy.
          Reminds me of a child, beating a drum or blowing a kazoo just to irritate adults, instead of happily playing with the other children.
          For if I truly believed what some heretics believe, i would not be wasting my time on blogs. I would be enjoying a hedonistic, self-centered lifestyle “while I had my being”. Fortunately, and by God’s grace, I have encountered the way, the Truth, and the life.

          1. Shannon,
            You are correct. Many children on the playground stick to themselves and many find it very hard to play with the others. Some do things to get the attention of adults by doing irritating things. And other children try their best to behave and gain the adults’ approval–and stay clear of the ones who are always irritating the adults. You sound like you were one of the good children.

            Ms. Blackburn, if you would like to comment on my Blog you are welcome. If you would like to point out how the United Church of Canada and the Ecumenical Patriarch have fallen off the rails and back that up with Scripture references such as Romans 1:26 and Leviticus 18:22, you can and I will counter by saying we are all in this together–all believers who believe in Christ are in the body. We are all on the same playground. Our leaders are trying their very best to get all the kids on the playground to play with one another–even the ones people have historically called heretical and shunned for their abominations. As you say, you are not particularly Ecumenical and you would not go over to the UCC and tell them to stop ordaining women and welcoming the LGBTQ. That is commendable. If you did, many of them would have great difficulty with your views because many are still “babes” in Christ, and would be ill equipped to respond.

            Shannon, you believe you have already found the Way, the Truth and the Life. And you are correct. You have found Christ and Christ wants you to Love God with your whole heart, your whole mind, your whole body, your whole soul and your neighbour as yourself. It must be very hard for you to love a neighbour like me who is speaking out against Orthodox beliefs based on Scripture that are keeping the Orthodox faith from being in communion with other Christians in other Ecumenical Christian denominations.

            I must sound like a noisy gong to you. Everyone who has stood under the bells of a large Cathedral knows how the noise hurts one’s ears! Likewise, it is excruciatingly painful to have a noisy bell of a neighbour call you to church if they think they are better than you…or presume to tell you, you are not a true follower of Christ or that you are “off the rails” or “off the mark” and a hedonist like the philosophers of Cyrene –like Simon (Mark 15:21) who carries the Cross of Jesus.

            Thank you for reminding me. Everyone walks the way of the Cross in their own time as their love for Christ matures in them. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:11…”when I was a child, I thought like a child. I reasoned like a child, now that I am a man, [an adult], I set aside childish ways.” May it be so for you and me.

  3. Very interesting quote from Saint Paisios. We are witnessing this self-destruction taking place in the nations rejecting the very God who they once embraced.

  4. The fact that faithful men such as yourself have to respond to this nonsense is beyond frustrating. But I’m so glad you have the patience to do so. Thank you for your faithfulness, Father Farley!

    1. Yes indeed thankful for Fr Lawrence’s thoughtful rebuttal. Real men protect the innocent from exploitation. That is the masculinity modeled by Jesus. Anything else is twisted exegesis.

  5. I was puzzled by the attitude of Giacomo Sanfilippo. He seemed to be muddled.
    But I am only old fashioned it appears.
    He claims, in Public Orthodoxy “Conjugal Friendship” that—
    -‘ One of the more useful insights of post modernism, so evident that it hardly needs to be said,is that reframing one’s fundamental question will produce a different answer”
    That to my eyes could be summarised as “If you ask a different question you will get a different answer”..
    I hope that I have misread this. If I haven’t misread this ,it would seem that nonsense has overtaken the academic world. If so, I’m very sorry for graduates of the University of Toronto.
    I wonder when they began to indulge in this word play? Words have seem to have lost their meaning in theology much as they have in the social sciences and politics .

  6. Great article again Fr Lawrence. I cannot believe the lengths some go to to twist ad turn things in their favour. As always their error needs to be brought into the light and exposed for what they are, dangerous and destructive. You have done that for us. Thank you.

  7. Many are now realizing that they were caught up in something such as homosexual activities thinking this was the norm – even being involved in bi-sexual activities was considered the norm. Knowing they simply were not taught the differences or never read a Bible to know what Jesus said about this – “Man shall not lie down with man” did they come to make the right decisions. There is an organization now filled with these people of renewal in mind, spirit and body, however at the moment I can’t remember the name of it. We must pray for them to have enlightenment and conversion!

    Thanks for the good article! God bless…..

    1. Thank you for your kinds words. Just a quick reminder that the prohibition “Man shall not lie down with a man as with a woman” comes from Leviticus.

  8. Like Sanfilippo, I have a child who is a member of the LGBTQ community. I’ve shed many tears, but have said more prayers. There is no way I can try to justify, as he has, the lifestyle.
    All of us have pain in our lives and much of it is self-inflicted. I have seen the pain that these children and parents are in (even if they deny their pain and deny their need for God and healing), so I listen and I pray. All I can do is pray “Lord, have mercy.”
    Thank you, Father Lawrence, for your responses, and your compassion.

    1. Thank you Laura. I so appreciate your reply. As you perfectly stated, we pray that God would have mercy on us and on our loved ones. Thanks again.

  9. Of course in Matthew 22:30 we learn that in the Resurrection people will not marry or be given in marriage, but we will be like the Angels in Heaven. It is obvious that the spiritual life is not carnal. The nuptial imagery could not be carnal in light of Christ’s own statement in Matthew 22:30.

    Thank you for this excellent article.

  10. Fr. Farley,

    I remember sitting, waiting to get my hair cut and picking up a science magazine defending homosexuality on the basis of animals (who in captivity with no females will pretty much try at procreation). This logic, starting from evolution, and assuming that the nature of animals and humans are essentially the same, gets you a blessing on being an animal. I really believe this underlies justification because this “logic” of man as essentially animal and nothing more was necessary first – yet the religious proponents rarely show their cards in this respect. You cannot borrow from a view of the world where God is basically “the Watchmaker” and then move on to Patristic and Scriptural hack-jobs because the two views are incompatible.

    This inconsistency, and I just have to assume it’s there – I have no proof, but I know the arguments that Orthodox are putting forward are not very original, they are picking up where the atheists, the liberal Protestants, and the social deconstructionists left off.

    If a core part of the argument depends on a god who intends man to be nothing more than an animal then obviously the entire Orthodox anthropology is out and theosis is a joke. And if evolution was true there would be no homosexuality because it would have weeded it out. You need technology and wealth for homosexuality to “work”.

    I really think that defenders like yourself need to point out when you can, that the heresy being promoted is a false anthropology incompatible with the Church. If man is to transcend passion to attain self-less love, then any, any identification of “being human” necessarily with passion is wrong from the start. And homosexuality is the ultimate form of self-love since the partner is a copy, a same resemblance of the self. We could say the same about any relationship, any self love in another person is inherently sinful and selfish. To elevate a relationship to justification is a step away from making it necessary for proper human existence – yet, marriage/having a monogamous partner/having children/etc. – is not absolutely necessary for a complete human existence otherwise monasticism and Paul’s desire for others to “remain as he is” – is flat out wrong.

    Last, I really love when people use Song of Solomon to theologize! That’s a wise endeavor for modern people.

    Thank you Father,
    Matt

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