In the introduction to “Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body “, Gerald Loughlin reflects on the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana, (John 2: 1 – 11) which we usually think of in terms of the transformation of water into wine. Instead of considering the miracle of transformation, Loughlin asks instead, “Who is it that was married?”. Answering the question in stages, he reached some profound and inspiring conclusions for all queer Christians, and especially for Catholics.
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First, he points out that the story should be read as a parable, with distinct anticipation of the Last Supper, Passion and Resurrection. The wedding takes place on “the third day” (anticipating the resurrection) after He has talked with Nathanel (John 1:43 -51), and the transformation of water into wine anticipates the transformation of wine into His blood. In a liturgical setting, the Mass recalls these three days. So, it is a standard idea that symbolically, in the church’s recollection of the story, we are all guests at the wedding, where Christ is marrying his Church. At one level closer to the literal, it is Christ marrying his disciples. Loughlin then goes on to discuss a fascinating more literal idea from the early and medieval church – that it was indeed Christ who was married – to John, the beloved disciple. This idea was articulated in the apocryphal Acts of John, in which it is said that John broke off his betrothals to a woman to “bind himself” to Jesus. This was apparently a common strand in some German medieval thinking, right up until the Reformation, and is visually illustrated in some surviving art. In a “Libellus for John the Evangelist”, a painting of the wedding feast is said to feature a bearded Christ seated next to a beardless, androgynous John – whom, says Loughlin, he appears about to kiss. In the “Admont Codex” illustrated manuscript of St Anselm’s “Prayers and Meditations”, an illustration in two parts shows John’s story. In one, John is seen leaving his female betrothed. In the companion piece, he is lying on the ground with this head on Jesus’s breast, while Jesus himself is tenderly caressing his chin.
Is this tradition “true”? We cannot know. Like so much much else in Scripture, it is impossible to get through the mists produced by unfamiliar language, a different literary tradition, and remote historical /cultural context to get close to the literal “truth” behind the text. No matter. Even without accepting this idea literally, it is enough for me to know that it was once widely accepted in the mystical tradition, and to incorporate it into my reader response.
It is when Loughlin moves beyond the “meaning” of the text to its multiple ironies that the fun starts. This where, in sympathy with Elizabeth Stuart, I found myself quite literally laughing with Scripture. For if it is true that the consecration of Eucharistic wine into Christ’s bloods is prefigured in the Cana transformation of water into wine, then we can see that in every Mass we are commemorating Christ’s own wedding with His (male) disciples. Every Mass can be seen as a mystical gay wedding. That Mass is celebrated by a priest who has committed himself to celibacy, and so forswears procreation himself, but is expected to preach against gay marriage or others – because homosexual intercourse, being unable to procreate, is “intrinsically disordered“. The priesthood in turn, is run by a a similarly celibate coterie in the Vatican which reproduces itself by recruitment not biological reproduction – and castigates the homosexual community for its own social, not biological reproduction.
The threat posed by gays and lesbians to family and society is often proclaimed by men – named “fathers”- who have vowed never to to beget children. The pope lives in a household of such men – a veritable palace of “eunuchs”for Christ – that reproduces itself by persuading others not to procreate. Why us the refusal of fecundity – the celibate lifestyle – not also a threat to family and society?
–Loughlin, introduction to “Queer Theology”
Goss, Robert (ed): Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible
Loughlin, Gerard (ed): Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body (BBPG)
- Gay Marriage: The Fallacy of the Church’s Argument Against. (queertheology.blogspot.com)