I’m grateful to Steve Yeazell for pointing me to Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. It’s an astounding document, though at approximately one page per three years also a rather intimidating one; so far, I’m flitting from topic to topic rather than trying read it sequentially. MacCulloch writes clearly without skimping on the technical details of church organization and theological reasoning, and I’m learning a great deal without great effort.
MacCulloch’s father was an East Anglian rector, and the book is marked by a cheerful courtesy and good humor that it’s hard not to see as the product of the best sort of manse upbringing. In discussing the terminological conventions he has chosen, MacCulloch writes:
I have tried to avoid names which are offensive to those to whom they have been applied, which means that readers may encounter unfamiliar usages, so I speak of “Miaphysites” and “Dyophysites” rather than “Monophysites” or “Nestorians,” or the “Apostolic Catholic Church” rather than “Irvingites.” Some may sneer at this as “political correctness.” When I was young my parents were insistent on the importance of being courteous and respectful of other people’s opinions and I am saddened that those undramatic virtues have now been relabeled in an unfriendly spirit.
The polemical assignment of nasty names to virtues has become a regular practice: we now have “elitism” to denigrate the love of excellence and “permissiveness” for to make freedom seem threatening. Whoever invented “political correctness” as a bad name for courtesy did a bad day’s work.