Who is getting married today? According to St. Thomas Aquinas, it might be you. As Biblical scholars would agree, Thomas’ depiction of the wedding at Cana (Jn 2:1-11) has as much to say about the present as the past.
In addition to the man and woman whose wedding was celebrated on that day, Thomas proposes three different but connected interpretations of the marriage. To start, he asks, why the mother of Jesus is at the wedding?
According to Thomas, the mother is mentioned because of her role in the greater marriage, the marriage of the Son of God with human nature: “And this marriage was begun in the womb of the Virgin, when God the Father united a human nature to His Son in a unity of person.…” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 338).
Thomas realizes that the parable of the wedding banquet of the King’s Son indicated Jesus’ union with us: “Of this marriage it is said: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a king who married his son’ (Mt 22:2), that is, when God the Father joined a human nature to His Word in the womb of the Virgin” (Commentary on John, 338).
Related to the union of the Son of God with our nature is His union with those who receive Him. The Letter to the Ephesians speaks of the Church as the Bride of Christ. Thomas notes: “In the mystical sense, marriage signifies the union of Christ with his Church, because as the Apostle says: ‘This is a great mystery: I am speaking of Christ and his Church’” (Eph 5:32) (Commentary on John, 338).
In the Old Testament, Hosea compared the relationship of God and His people with that of a husband and wife: “I will bind you to myself in faithfulness” (Hos 2:20). Christ speaks of Himself as the “bridegroom” (Mk 2:19; Jn 3:29). Paul tells the Corinthians, “I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor 11:2).
The Letter to the Ephesians offers the example of Christ to husbands: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed Himself over for her, to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word that He might present to Himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-27) The Book of Revelation depicts heaven as an eternal wedding feast: “Blessed are they who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rv 19:9).
The marriage of Christ with His Church has been individualized to represent the union of the soul with Christ. This theme has been present in the mystical tradition, for instance in the homilies of St. Bernard and in the Spiritual Canticle of St. John of the Cross.
When Thomas considers the marriage of Christ with the soul, he proposes a reason why Mary should be present at the wedding: “In its mystical meaning, the mother of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin, is present in spiritual marriages as the one who arranges the marriage, because it is through her intercession that one is joined to Christ through grace” (Commentary on John, 343).
Thomas’ Mariology is very Christ-centered. Christ’s grace joins us to Christ. Mary’s intercession is directed above all to our union with her Son.
Thomas applies a reference to the personification of Wisdom found in the Book of Sirach to Mary, “In me is every hope of life and of strength” (Sir 24:25). The Second Vatican Council speaks of Mary’s “maternal charity,” which is exercised through her “manifold intercession” (Lumen Gentium, 62). Mary intercedes that we may find “every hope of life and strength” in Christ.
Thomas explains: “Christ is present as the true groom of the soul, as is said, ‘It is the groom who has the bride’ (John 3:29). The disciples are the groomsmen uniting the Church to Christ, the one of whom it is said: “I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ (2 Cor 11:2)” (Commentary on John, 343).
Thomas tells us: “The role of Christ’s mother was to superintend the miracle; the role of Christ to perform it; and the disciples were to bear witness to it. As to the first, Christ’s mother assumed the role of an intercessor. Hence she does two things. First, she intercedes with her Son. In the second place, she instructs the servants” ((Commentary on John, 345).
Thomas calls attention to the characteristics of Mary’s intercession in a beautiful way: “In Mary’s intercession, note first her kindness and mercy. For it is a quality of mercy to regard another’s distress as one’s own, because to be merciful is to have a heart distressed at the distress of another: ‘Who is weak, and I am not weak?’ (2 Cor 11:29). And so because the Blessed Virgin was full of mercy, she desired to relieve the distress of others” (Commentary on John, 345).
Thomas also tells us to “Note her reverence for Christ: for because of the reverence we have for God it is sufficient for us merely to express our needs: ‘Lord, all my desires are known by you’ (Ps 37:10). But it is not our business to wonder about the way in which God will help us, for as it is said: ‘We do not know what we should pray for as we ought’ (Rom 8:26). And so his mother merely told him of their need, saying, ‘They have no more wine’ (Jn 2:3)” (Commentary on John, 345).
Thomas points out Mary’s attention to the needs of the newlyweds: “Note the Virgin’s concern and care. For she did not wait until they were in extreme need, but ‘when the wine ran out,’ that is, immediately. This is similar to what is said of God: “A helper in times of trouble” (Ps 9:10)” (Commentary on John, 345). Thomas adds, “She trustingly prompted Christ to perform miracles” (Commentary on John, 346).
Thomas considers that the “wine” that had run out was that of “charity or grace”: “The wine of charity was also running out, because they had received a spirit of serving only in fear. But Christ converted the water of fear into the wine of charity when He gave ‘the spirit of adoption as sons, by which we cry: ‘Abba, Father’ (Rom 8:15), and when ‘the charity of God was poured out into our hearts’” (Rom 5:5) (Commentary on John, 347).
Thomas sees in the close relationship between Jesus and Mary which is depicted in this Gospel an answer to those early heretics who claimed that Jesus was only spiritually born of Mary, like water passing through a pipe. Thomas reminds us of the words of the Letter to the Galatians: “God sent his Son, made from a woman” (Gal 4:4): “Now Christ could not be said to have been made from her, unless He had taken something from her” (Commentary on John, 349).
Thomas wonders why the presence of the “mother of Jesus” is mentioned before the presence of Jesus. He considers whether she was better known or that the hosts didn’t expect Jesus to take part in a social gathering, although contemporary exegetes agree that Jesus’ meals with others were characteristic of His ministry (Commentary on John, 340).
Thomas concludes that Jesus went to the wedding because He was invited “to give us an example of humility.” Thomas remembers that Augustine has commented: “Let man blush to be proud, for God became humble” (Commentary on John, 341).
Thomas relates Jesus’ humility in His humanity with His divinity: “For among his other acts of humility, the Son of the Virgin came to a marriage, which He had already instituted in paradise when He was with His Father. Of this example it is said: ‘Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart’” (Mt 11:29) (Commentary on John, 341).
Thomas adds that Jesus’ presence refutes negativity regarding marriage, “to reject the error of those who condemn marriage” (Commentary on John, 341).
Thomas also addresses those who thought that “all things happen by fate, and that the actions of men, including those of Christ, are subject to predetermined times.” And that is why, Christ said, “My time has not yet come” (Commentary on John, 351).
Thomas explains: “For since man has free choice, and this is because he has reason and will, both of which are spiritual, then obviously, as far as choice is concerned, man, so far from being subject to bodies [the stars], is really their master. For spiritual things are superior to material things, so much so that the Philosopher says that the wise man is master of the stars” (Commentary on John, 351).
This was especially true of Christ, whom Thomas asserts is “the Lord and Creator of the stars” (Commentary on John, 351). Thomas explains that Jesus is speaking of the time of His Passion, “which was fixed for Him, not by necessity, but according to divine providence (Commentary on John, 351).
Thomas refers to the question raised in Sirach (33:7): “Why is one day better than another?” To which Sirach answers, “It is due to the Lord’s wisdom that they differ” (Sirach 33:8). Thomas interprets this to mean, “They have been differentiated from one another not by chance, but by God’s providence” (Commentary on John, 351).
According to Thomas, Jesus does not respond to His mother’s request because miracles are not from His human nature but His divine: “Now to perform miracles is appropriate to Him according to His divine nature, which He received from the Father; while to suffer is according to His human nature, which He received from His mother…” (Commentary on John, 352).
Thomas affirms that Jesus might have said to His mother: “I did not receive from you that in Me which enables Me to perform miracles, but that which enables Me to suffer, i.e., that which makes it appropriate for me to suffer, i.e., I have received a human nature from you. And so I will recognize you when this weakness hangs on the cross. And so He continues with, My time has not yet come. As if to say: I will recognize you as My mother when the time of My passion arrives. And so it was that on the cross He entrusted His mother to the disciple” (Commentary on John, 352).
Thomas observes that those at the wedding did not realize that the wine was running out: “Nor do they know that the wine ran out; and they must first know this, because when they know their need they will have a greater appreciation of the benefit they will receive” (Commentary on John, 353).
Thomas remarks that Mary did not lose hope: “Now although his mother was refused, she did not lose hope in her Son’s mercy. So she instructs the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you,’ in which, indeed, consists the perfection of all justice. For perfect justice consists in obeying Christ in all things” (Commentary on John, 354).
Thomas points out that Jesus used created substances to show that they were good: “And so the Lord performed many miracles using created and visible substances in order to show that these substances are good and were created by God” (Commentary on John, 358).
Thomas sees Jesus fulfilling the old law: “Christ made the wine from water, and not from nothing, in order to show that he was not laying down an entirely new doctrine and rejecting the old, but was fulfilling the old: ‘I have not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it’ (Mt 5:17). In other words, what was prefigured and promised in the old law, was disclosed and revealed by Christ: ‘Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures’ (Lk 24:45) (Commentary on John, 358).
Thomas believes that the servants were Jesus’ witnesses: “Finally, he had the servants fill the jars with water so that He might have witnesses to what He did; so it is said, the servants knew, since they had drawn the water” (Commentary on John, 358).
Thomas considers the actions of the servants to be similar to those of preachers: “In the mystical sense, those who pour out the water are preachers: ‘With joy you will draw water from the springs of the Savior’ (Is 12:3). And the head waiter is someone skilled in the law, as Nicodemus, Gamaliel or Paul. So, when the word of the Gospel, which was hidden under the letter of the law, is entrusted to such persons, it is as though wine made from water is poured out for the head waiter, who, when he tastes it, gives his assent to the faith of Christ” (Commentary on John, 361).
Thomas acknowledges St. John Chrysostom teaching that everything is most perfect in the miracles of Christ.: “Thus, he restored most complete health to Peter’s mother-in-law, so that she arose at once and waited on them, as we read in Mark (1:30) and Matthew (7:14). Again, he restored the paralytic to health so perfectly that he also arose immediately, took up his mat, and went home, as we read below” (Commentary on John, 362).
Thomas concludes: “This is also evident in this miracle, because Christ did not make mediocre wine from the water, but the very best possible” (Commentary on John, 362).
Thomas explains that Jesus does not serve the best wine first: “Christ, however, does not serve the good wine first, for at the outset he proposes things that are bitter and hard: ‘Narrow is the way that leads to life’ (Mt 7:14) (Commentary on John, 363).
Eventually, a person realizes that the wine that Jesus gives is the best wine: “Yet the more progress a person makes in his faith and teaching, the more pleasant it becomes and he becomes aware of a greater sweetness: “I will lead You by the path of justice, and when you walk you will not be hindered” (Prv 4:11)” (Commentary on John, 363).
Those who follow Christ may suffer hardship but they will find joy: “Likewise, all those who desire to live conscientiously in Christ suffer bitterness and troubles in this world: ‘You will weep and mourn’ (Jn 16:20). But later they will experience delights and joys. So he goes on: ‘but your sorrow will be turned into joy.’ ‘I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, which will be revealed in us,’ as is said in Romans (8:18)” (Commentary on John, 363).
John declares: “This beginning of signs Jesus worked in Cana of Galilee; and Jesus revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him” (Jn 2:11).
Thomas asks, “But how did they believe? For they already were his disciples and had believed before this. …previously they had believed in him as a good man, preaching what was right and just; but now they believed in him as God” (Commentary on John, 365).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, trans. James A. Weisheipl, O.P. and Fabian Larcher, O.P., is available on the web page of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/