During the past eight years, we have witnessed a revolution in our nation led by the president of the United States: No longer are homosexual acts deemed immoral and sinful by a majority of our populace.
Instead, our nation sees homosexual acts as just another expression of love. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court validated this mistaken view by legalizing same-sex marriage.
The United States is not alone. Some twenty nations that were once either traditionally Christian or Catholic have embraced homosexual acts as an expression of love and have legalized same-sex marriage. More are expected to follow.
The Catholic Church, the Orthodox, and some Christian denominations – such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod – have refused to forsake the traditional Christian moral standpoint that sexual acts outside of a marriage between one man and one woman are immoral and sinful.
Christians who continue to follow the narrow way opened to them by Jesus Christ can take heart from the recent publication of a little theological and pastoral masterpiece by a reform-minded eleventh century Catholic ascetic, monk, cardinal, and Doctor of the Church, St. Peter Damian (1007-1072).
The Book of Gomorrah and St. Peter Damian’s Struggle Against Ecclesiastical Corruption, published by Ite Ad Thomam Books and Media, arrives at a time of moral crisis throughout the world, a time of confusion among atheist and Christian alike.
The book contains Matthew Cullinan Hoffman’s fine new translation of St. Peter Damian’s The Book of Gomorrah (Liber Gomorrhianus), as well as lucidly written and extensive biographical and historical material.
The Book of Gomorrah is a well-reasoned exhortation against ecclesiastical corruption. Written between the years 1049 and 1054, and addressed to Pope Leo IX, the book is an impassioned cry against rampant homosexual acts by monks and clergy of the time.
It is also a call for just punishment of clergy who have committed such acts, as well as a primer that offers instruction about the necessity of identifying your sins, knowing why certain acts are sinful, repenting for your sins, and relying on God’s mercy as you repent appropriately for them.
Damian also offers much needed instruction in how the reform-minded in the Church can address and speak clearly and unambiguously about sinful practices that stand in opposition to the Church’s teaching on faith and morals.
Not long before he wrote his book Damian lamented the confusion caused “by bad bishops and abbots” as a result of the practice of simony.
Hoffman explains that by the year 1048, “The state of the papacy, and the Catholic Church as a whole, had reached what may be considered a historic nadir.”
To support his view, he includes an eloquent statement by the Italian bishop St. Bruno, who was intent on reforming the Church. St. Bruno states:
“The whole world had fallen into malignity. Sanctity had disappeared, justice had perished, and truth had been buried. Evil reigned, avarice dominated. Simon Magus possessed the Churches.”
Although a monk, Damian served the Church as a reformer, and central to this reform was his treatise on the vice of what he calls “The cancer of sodomitic impurity” in the opening pages of his exhortation.
Damian is unequivocal about how wayward monks and clergy defile themselves and the penances that have been imposed on them. Not all of what he has to say appeals to our contemporary sensibilities; even those among us who are most ardent in following the Lord may find some of what he has to say to be blunt or harsh.
Yet Damian is flawless in expressing core moral principles of Christianity. And for this reason, we should pay close attention to what he has to say, particularly in the later chapters of his book.
In these chapters, Damian explains why sodimitic indecency surpasses all vices and so must be condemned, and he tells us why Christians love and respect the body while those practicing sodomy are utterly confused:
“For this vice is the death of bodies, the destruction of souls, pollutes the flesh, extinguishes the light from the intellect, expels the Holy Spirit from the temple of the human heart, introduces the diabolical inciter of lust, throws into confusion and removes the truth completely from the mind. It prepares snares for the one who walks, and for him who falls into the pit, it obstructs the escape.”
For these reasons and more, Damian says he weeps for the souls of those who have fallen to this vice. He weeps and mourns, he says, especially for those who fail to weep and mourn for their sins.
True compassion for the sinner, he reminds us, is a call to repent. Only in renouncing sin can we rise:
“For the less you fall by sinning, the more easily you may rise again by the outstretched hand of penance, through the mercy of God.”
In his penultimate chapter, Damian offers an apology for his exhortation aimed at those who might call him judgmental:
“… you urge me to place the sword of my tongue in a sheath of silence, so that it itself might perish while it rusts in disfavor ….”
Our faith obligates us to correct the sinner, Damian reminds us. In correcting the sinner, we love our neighbor as ourselves. When we fail to offer correction out of false mercy, or for some other reason, we actually participate in our neighbor’s sin.
During the last decades of the twentieth century, the Catholic Church was shaken by scandal, widespread reports of homosexual acts and abuse by clergy. The Church needed a St. Peter Damian at the time to speak forcefully and unabashedly about the crisis and how to resolve it.
Whether Catholic or not, we have him now. Hoffman’s lucid translation of Damian’s exhortation and his materials about Damian’s life, times, and book, offers us a much needed tonic for the confusion of our times, one that may help us in our efforts to restore some sanity in this fallen world.