Time to return to a favorite subject of mine, one it increasingly seems I beat the drum for alone. A lot of people were critical of Christopher West and the popular TOB evangelists. Yet with a few exceptions (such as the final section on Dawn Eden's book My Peace I Give You and several wonky essays by Alice Von Hildebrand which theology buffs eat up but I suspect the average faithful scratches their head over), my ideological allies have done nothing but criticize, and have offered few alternatives.
As I have said many times, this is unfortunate. We have an opening, should we choose to seize it. We've always felt that the pop TOB evangelists (while getting several things right) strayed from sound Catholic principles on some of their ideas. We've even shown from the texts of the Wednesday audiences how this occurs. Yet I also think we've conceded too much of the narrative. We concede to them that the Wednesday audiences are primarily some catechesis about sex and sexuality, a "gospel of the body" (As Mr. West used to term it in his less guarded days), yet an honest reading of the text actually makes clear that wasn't the point at all.
The real point of the texts are actually based on very sound traditional Catholic principles. This is good for two reasons. Once traditionalists get over that initial skittishness of anything "modern" and realize a lot of what has been promoted in the pope's name is wrong, his message can be defended by a group that would seem to be the logical constituency: people who are very militant about large families. We also have a knowledge of previous Catholic social teaching we can bring to the discussion that our friends across the way normally do not talk about.
For actual fans of the texts, this should be a positive development because it allows you to probe deeper into these texts, when you work with the same understanding and sources the Pope did. At its bare bones, TOB is a biblical study on the first two chapters of the book of Genesis. What you don't hear from the pop TOB evangelists is that this style of biblical study is very ancient, and was something people throughout the Church have done frequently. They've done it so frequently there's even a name for it: Hexameral Literature, after the Hexameron. When you look at the Church Fathers who wrote Hexameral Literature, it is a who's who of Doctors of the Church: St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Basil the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, and countless others. As we have demonstrated elsewhere, it is also quite clear that in several instances John Paul II is borrowing and developing the profound insights of earlier Popes such as Leo XIII in his Wednesday audiences.
Tomorrow I'll be giving the few readers of this blog a taste of several essays I'm looking to get put online somewhere that provide this alternative to the popular understanding, as well as a better understanding of these sources.