>Thanks for the comments on the last post. After seeing references to medieval “Catholics” in *two* scholarly books, I thought maybe I was the only one who thought this was wrong. But now I see that it’s not just me. And Janice’s comment summed up nicely why it’s problematic.
Richard Scott Nokes linked to the post and mentioned that it’s one of his pet peeves, as well as something his students commonly do. My students do it, too, but usually it’s only one or two per class. This may have something to do with the large Catholic population of Rust Belt; if the students went to Catholic school, they probably got some church history (well, I did in Catholic school). But at any rate, one or two students per term is enough to notice. Usually it’s in papers and I write in the margins that the term is anachronistic for the period, that it’s not used until much later, that “Christian” is the appropriate term.
But maybe I should bring this up earlier? I spend all semester referring to “medieval Christianity” or “medieval Christians,” and yet “Catholic” still pops up every now and then. Meanwhile, once in a while (although not often) an evangelical Protestant student assumes that medieval people were also evangelicals since for some people “Christian” has a narrower meaning (one not operative in the Middle Ages). Or they get confused in some other way because I keep talking about “medieval Christians.”
So…I’m wondering if there’s some way I can head this off at the pass. Every now and then I point out that medieval Christianity was different in many ways from modern Christianity in any form, so no one should feel at either a disadvantage or advantage if they come from a Christian background or not. So I tell them to think of it the way they would ancient Greek or Roman religion — as narrative. I do this mostly for the non-religious students and for the students who’ve been anesthetized by too much religious school (as I was), to free them from their discomfort or knee-jerk aversion. Too often the non-religious students either don’t think they have standing to talk, or else are too automatically dismissive. But also, I want the Christian students, whatever their denomination, to know that they may have some useful knowledge, but their beliefs and practices are not exactly the same as medieval ones. I want them all to see things fresh.
But anyway, now I’m wondering if I need to make that talk a regular feature and elaborate in some ways about the continuities and discontinuities between medieval Christianity and later forms, including why we don’t talk about medieval “Catholics.” Or should I just deal with it when it comes up? What do you all think?
In the meantime, I’m reviewing one of the books I mentioned, so now I feel more empowered to bring the issue up in the review if there’s space.