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.