Tuesday, January 12, 2010

St. Aelred: Gay saint of friendship

St. Aelred of Rievaulx
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 1992
Courtesy of www.trinitystores.com (800.699.4482)
Collection of the Living Circle, Chicago, IL

Saint Aelred (1109-1167) is considered one of the most lovable saints, the patron saint of friendship and also, some say, gay. His feast day is Jan. 12.

Aelred was the abbott of the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx in England. His treatise “On Spiritual Friendship” is still one of the best theological statements on the connection between human and spiritual love. “God is friendship… He who abides in friendship abides in God, and God in him,” he wrote, paraphrasing 1 John 4:16.

Aelred’s own deep friendships with men are described in “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality” by Yale history professor John Boswell. “There can be little question that Aelred was gay and that his erotic attraction to men was a dominant force in his life,” Boswell wrote.

Boswell’s account inspired the members of the LGBT Episcopal group Integrity to name Aelred as their patron saint. Visit IntegrityUSA.org for the full story on how they won recognition for their gay saint.

Aelred certainly advocated chastity, but his passions are clear in his writing. He describes friendship with eloquence in this often-quoted passage:

“It is no small consolation in this life to have someone you can unite with you in an intimate affection and the embrace of a holy love, someone in whom your spirit can rest, to whom you can pour out your soul, to whose pleasant exchanges, as to soothing songs, you can fly in sorrow... with whose spiritual kisses, as with remedial salves, you may draw out all the weariness of your restless anxieties. A man who can shed tears with you in your worries, be happy with you when things go well, search out with you the answers to your problems, whom with the ties of charity you can lead into the depths of your heart; . . . where the sweetness of the Spirit flows between you, where you so join yourself and cleave to him that soul mingles with soul and two become one.”

The icon of Saint Aelred was painted by Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his innovative icons. It includes a banner with Aelred’s words, “Friend cleaving to friend in the spirit of Christ.”
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.


Trudie said...

This wonderful "Gay Saints" series continues to enrich and educate me. Although I participated in the Catholic Gay Organization Dignity for over ten years, and Dignity and Integrity often held joint services and shared programs, I had not encountered the story of St. Aelred before. And of course, Br. Lentz's fabulous icon is another great blessing. Thanks, Kitt, for the marvelous research work you've put into this excellent series!

Kittredge Cherry said...

Trudie, I’m glad that you appreciate the research that goes into the GLBT saints series. I usually start out thinking, “This saint will be easy to write about.” Ha! The research and the Spirit always lead me in unexpected directions. Each saint brings me unique blessings, but it does turn out to take more time and effort than expected.

I feel that the special gift of Aelred is the focus on friendship. We can certainly use that in these times of airplane bombs and vicious church politics over same-sex marriage.

S. Edward Dwyer said...

I find it really depressing the way genuine friendship between men is, these days, assumed to be gay. It makes it very difficult for straight men to have real friendships with other men. While it wouldn't worry me if Aelred were gay or not, I find it sad that his understanding of male friendship has been taken out of the reach of straight men and sexualised in this way.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Edward, you raise an important point. I don’t intend to make it harder for straight men to have genuine, non-sexual friendships with each other. LGBT relationships were “the love that dare not speak its name” for so long that we have had to search for hidden meanings to find examples of same-sex love. I hope that you will continue to find strength in St. Aelred’s writings on friendship. As I mentioned in this profile, he did advocate celibacy.

Bee Blackburn said...

Thank you, S. Edward Dwyer for your comments... I am searching for genuine spiritual human friendship with either male or female, and find it depressing that almost all deep friendships are sexualized these days by the addition of the the sex labels - gay, male, female, lesbian, straight, and so forth... whatever has happened to genuine human friendship???

Kittredge Cherry said...

Bee, I wish you well in your search for genuine spiritual friendship. Maybe friendships tend to get sexualized these days because the sexual aspect of friendship was viciously suppressed for so many centuries.

Anonymous said...

This is ridiculous. Saint Augustine wrote on friendship. Does that mean he practiced the sin of sodomy? You take this gay stuff way too far.

Anonymous said...

I find it tragic that people are viewed through the lens of sexuality in this decadent age. Aelred was a Cistercian aescetic, dedicated to the love of God and Christ and renouncing the world.
In the context of his time he was most likely to be ploughing a field to feed the community. Worship and labour would fill all his waking hours. Try monastic life some time and get real.

Kittredge Cherry said...

As I stated in my profile of Saint Aelred, he advocated chastity. He may not have been sexually active, but his orientation appears to be toward other men. Homosexuality is more than sexual conduct. The American Psychological Association defines sexual orientation as “an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions.”