Wednesday, January 12, 2011

St. Aelred: Gay saint of friendship

St. Aelred of Rievaulx
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 1992
Courtesy of (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. Click here 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 who 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.

Icons of St. Aelred and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores

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Trudie said...

Another excellent post. Of course, I always find Robert Lentz's icons inspirational, and your comments and links are getting better and better. Having once participated with Integrity and Dignity, and being a long-time devotee of Boswell's scholarship, I found these aspects of the commentary especially valuable.

I am waiting with great anticipation for someone to pick up where Boswell left of and make a serious study of the historical threads that led to both the incredible spiritual richness of monasticism and the later abuses when the anti eroticism of the Church managed to make "particular friendships" amongst monks and nuns totally anathema.

Obviously, as is repeated over and over again, there IS a place for the CHOICE of celibacy. Nowhere is it written that a person MUST be sexually active to be "alive in Love". That, I truly believe, is one of the greatest insights of the Jesus in Love novels: the honest statement that what makes sexual interaction sacred is complete reciprocity in love, without any taint of coercion. Certainly, in our human condition, such freedom from compulsions may be difficult to achieve, and those who choose NOT to be genitally sexually active should not be disrespected for that choice -- as long as they do not disrespect those who choose otherwise. This, of course, is the problem. Because celibacy has been so excessively over-valued, and loving eroticism under-valued, it is hard to find the necessary balance in our spirituality.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Yes, I’d also like to see someone build on Boswell’s scholarship to explore more dimensions of monasticism and eroticism in the rainbow light of a LGBT-affirming perspective. I agree that celibacy is an equally valid lifestyle, although maybe it’s not a “choice” that is possible for everyone. I’ve heard it described as a gift. Maybe some are born without that particular capacity.

Trudie, you summarized the theme of my “Jesus in Love” novels so well in just a few words: “what makes sexual interaction sacred is complete reciprocity in love.” I couldn’t have done that myself. I suppose that’s why I felt compelled to write the novels. Thanks for your insightful comment.

Sage said...

This series is beautifully conceived, written and executed. Thank you!