- A Catholic Perspective on Homoerotic Desire
In recent years, homosexuality has become one of the most contested cultural issues, at both a national and international level. Even the question of language is hotly debated, especially in Christian circles, with some rejecting "homosexuality" because of its relationship with clinical psychology in past years, and some insisting upon its use because of the associations of the term "gay" with certain political and cultural movements. This article will take a step back from those particular questions and will seek to give an account of a more fundamental question: that of desire, particularly same-sex desire. It will give a historical and philosophical account of the nature of erotic love and then apply this account to the question of homosexuality and homoerotic desire. While maintaining an adherence to Catholic teaching, especially the teaching laid out in the "Catechism of the Catholic Church," this article will seek to move the conversation forward, in giving a positive account of homoerotic desire and reframing the current discussion of homosexuality and Catholicism. [End Page 51]
I. On Erotic Desire
I will begin a discussion of erotic desire, before moving to the question of homosexuality, homoerotic desire, and Catholicism. As will be examined in section four, "homosexuality" is a narrow category in the catechism. Homoerotic desire, and erotic desire more generally, considers something much broader. "Homoerotic desire" should not be confused with "homosexuality," and "eros" should not be confused with "sexuality."
In his Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, Pope St. John Paul II gestures toward an expansive view of erotic desire. He writes, "According to Plato, 'eros' represents the inner power that draws man toward all that is good, true, and beautiful. This 'attraction' indicates, in this case, the intensity of a subjective act of the human spirit. By contrast, in the common meaning—as also in literature—this 'attraction' seems to be above all of a sensual nature."1 Likewise, Christopher Dawson argues for a broader understanding of "the erotic" than simply sensual considerations. Drawing on the work of Werner Sombart, Dawson identifies "the erotic type par excellence as 'the religious mystic,' the 'man of desire,' like St. Augustine or St. Francis."2
Consider the feeling of having your breath taken away by a beautiful painting, or a sunset, or a striking line of poetry, or by a lovely face, that feeling of being drawn out of yourself by something or someone so beautiful that it awakens something within you, that feeling of transcendence when you encounter something incredibly good. Plato calls that the "erotic," the experience of being drawn out of yourself by the beautiful. The "erotic" does not simply concern the "sexual," but every experience of beauty, such that the "sexual" may be one way of experiencing the erotic, but is not the only way. John Paul criticizes the common limitation of the erotic "mainly to a naturalistic, 'somatic,' and sensualistic interpretation of human eroticism."3 He looks, rather, to Plato for a fuller understanding of eros.
Such an understanding of eros, in its broadest sense, includes [End Page 52] every inclination drawing man out of himself. The experience of having one's breath taken away by a beautiful painting is an erotic experience. The same is true for having one's breath taken away by a sunset, or a line of poetry, or a beautiful man or woman. The same is said of a delicious-looking cake that captures your attention and incites longing, or the longing for God in the Eucharist.
Eros should not simply end with that "feeling" of transcendence, however. The highest forms of eros call us to something more. In The Symposium, Diotima discusses the concept of "spiritual pregnancy." In one example of such a pregnancy, Diotima says that a soul bears within itself wisdom. When a man comes upon a friend who is worthy and whom he loves, he gives birth to this wisdom in argument and discussion, and the two nurture it together as their spiritual child.
According to Diotima, "all human natures … are pregnant, yearning to reproduce both physically and psychically." Pregnancy is innate to humans, and...