On jobs for Christians

Article 16 of The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome (c. 215) notes that there are (or were) some occupations that are simply deemed incompatible with being a Christian. (Parallel lists appear in Tertullian’s De idololatria (c. 211) and De spectaculis (c. 197–202)). What immediately strikes me about the catalogue of occupations that would render one ineligible from admission into the catechumenal process is the commitment to a non-violent ethic and an evading of the praxes of idolatry before you even begin the journey. In some ways, I guess it would be like refusing someone who works for one of the subsidiaries of News Corporation or for a bank who profits from usury from attending an Alpha Course:

If someone is a pimp who supports prostitutes, he shall cease or shall be rejected. If someone is a sculptor or a painter, let them be taught not to make idols. Either let them cease or let them be rejected. If someone is an actor or does shows in the theater, either he shall cease or he shall be rejected. If someone teaches children (worldly knowledge), it is good that he cease. [It seems that this prohibition, which is particularly strong in Tertullian’s thought, is based on the logic that teachers were required to teach about pagan gods and to observe pagan festivals, a bit like teacher’s today observing Anzac Day or Melbourne Cup day, I suppose.] But if he has no (other) trade, let him be permitted. A charioteer, likewise, or one who takes part in the games, or one who goes to the games, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. If someone is a gladiator, or one who teaches those among the gladiators how to fight, or a hunter who is in the wild beast shows in the arena, or a public official who is concerned with gladiator shows, either he shall cease, or he shall be rejected. If someone is a priest of idols, or an attendant of idols, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. A military man in authority must not execute men. If he is ordered, he must not carry it out. Nor must he take military oath. If he refuses, he shall be rejected. If someone is a military governor, or the ruler of a city who wears the purple, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. The catechumen or faithful who wants to become a soldier is to be rejected, for he has despised God. The prostitute, the wanton man, the one who castrates himself, or one who does that which may not be mentioned, are to be rejected, for they are impure. A magus shall not even be brought forward for consideration. An enchanter, or astrologer, or diviner, or interpreter of dreams, or a charlatan, or one who makes amulets, either they shall cease or they shall be rejected. If someone’s concubine is a slave, as long as she has raised her children and has clung only to him, let her hear. Otherwise, she shall be rejected. The man who has a concubine must cease and take a wife according to the law. If he will not, he shall be rejected.

While some may argue – and have indeed argued – that such a holding of the keys is the flip side of the church refusing to bury certain people because of their association with particular vocations, at the very least such a list invites us to not only consider what the church today might catalogue as occupations that render one ineligible for baptism and so for life in the community of God (of course, it is difficult to imagine how such a radically disparate and commercialised body not only outside of but also within Rome could today agree on anything, let alone pronounce on vocational anathemas), but also to think about how the call to repentance is among the first words that the kingdom of God proclaims. It also invites us to wonder more deeply about St Paul’s claim ‘where sin increased, grace abounded all the more’, and about the size and reach of Paul’s God.


  1. Oh, dear….actors. Well, that would cut me out. Though I guess the kind of acting they did in theatres in those days was more focused on gods. Still….there are a number of plays I wouldn’t be particularly keen to be involved in, even today…!


  2. I’ve always thought the prohibition on acting was fascinating. Is it something to do with the necessity of practiced dishonesty in being an actor, ie mastering the art of pretending to be someone else. I had a mate who was an actor, who was remarkably good at it. He was so good – he completely lost track of himself in all the characters he played (on stage and in life). In the face of Jesus’ call to painful honesty and confession – it seems acting, the ability to drop ‘into character’ is in direct conflict.


  3. I don’t think good acting consists of losing yourself completely in a role. In my small amount of experience of acting, there is always so much else to concentrate on, that losing yourself would be a disaster. And good actors always interact with their audience as well, so there’s a relationship factor. I’ve read more than once about top notch actors that they don’t tend to bring real emotions before the audience, but a facsimile of them. Producing real emotions night after night (or take after take) will eventually wear you out. Acting is the art of appearing to be emotional about something while actually thinking about what you had for dinner, or your next cue, or why that other actor has decided to upstage you on this particular occasion…!


  4. From “On Shakespeare” by John Bell, actor and director.

    When I’m auditioning actors what do I look for?

    Someone I want to watch; someone who I think will tell me something.
    Someone who has understood the text and made it her own.
    Someone who has a lively imagination and the flexibility to take direction, to come through a different door.
    Someone who is prepared to take risks.
    Someone who seems to have a real appreciation of language, its power, nuances, music and colour.
    Someone who acts with the whole body.
    Someone whose voice is compelling, accent is immaterial.


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