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A vocation, Latin for "calling", is a term for an occupation to which a person is specially drawn or for which they are suited, trained or qualified. Though now often used in secular contexts, the meanings of the term originated in Christianity.

Senses of the word

The word "vocation" comes from the Latin vocare, meaning "to call"; [1] Its usage before the sixteenth century, referred firstly to the "call" by God to the individual, or calling of all humankind to salvation, particularly in the Vulgate, and more specifically to the "vocation to the priesthood", which is still the usual sense in Roman Catholicism.[2] Martin Luther [3], followed by John Calvin, placed a particular emphasis on vocations, or divine callings, as potentially including most secular occupations, though this idea was by no means new.[4]

Calvinism developed complex ideas about different types of vocations of the first type, connected with the concepts of Predestination, Irresistible grace, and the elect. There are the vocatio universalis, the vocatio specialis, only extended to some. There were also complex distinctions between internal and external, and the "vocatio efficax" and "inefficax" types of callings.[5] Hyper-Calvinism, unusually, rejects the idea of a "universal call" to repent and believe, held by virtually all other Christian groups.

In Protestantism the call from God to devote one's life to him by joining the clergy is often covered by the English equivalent term "call", whereas in Roman Catholicism "vocation" is still used.


The idea of vocation is central to the Christian belief that God has created each person with gifts and talents oriented toward specific purposes and a way of life. Particularly in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, this idea of vocation is especially associated with a divine call to service to the Church and humanity through particular vocational life commitments such as marriage to a particular person, consecration as a religious, ordination to priestly ministry in the Church and even a holy life as a single person. In the broader sense, Christian vocation includes the use of ones gifts in their profession, family life, church and civic commitments for the sake of the greater common good.

Perceived lack of priestly and religious vocations

Religious vocations in the United States peaked during the early 1960s. Since then vocations to religious life and priestly ordination have been declining back to earlier levels. Religious communities have risen over the centuries to meet particular needs, and many orders have died out as their missions were complete or their ministries absorbed by other communities or institutions.

Conservative Catholic author Michael S. Rose, cites a number of reasons for a perceived priest shortage. One of the more interesting reasons is that Catholic bishops have manufactured an artificial vocations "crisis" by rejecting candidates who do not embrace the bishops 1960s style "modern" theology. Seminary candidates who are interested in traditional elements of worship (i.e. Tridentine Mass, Gregorian Chant, etc.) or traditional theology (celibate, male, priesthood, sin, confession, etc.) are deemed to be anti-Vatican II and are summarily dismissed from consideration.

The Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders, a Vatican document published in November 2005 by the Congregation for Catholic Education, stated that that the church "cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture.'" The long-awaited instruction caused much controversy particularly because of its release in the wake of the sex-abuse scandal. The instruction itself made no direct connection between priest pedophilia and homosexuality.

Renewed interest in Catholic religious vocations

Several recent surveys have shown an increased interest in religious life in the United States (See the Annual Vocation Trends Surveys). Men's and women's religious communities are reporting an increase in inquiries about religious life. A number of factors account for this trend, including technological advances that allow for easier access to information, spiritual renewal among younger Catholics, desire for community, and second career vocations.

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) has conducted a study on trends in religious life.

Modern vocational examples

Many forms of humanitarian campaigning, such as work for organisations such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace can also be considered vocations.

The emerging church movement, Catholic social thought, and an increased interest in reformation thought has renewed interest in the Christian idea of vocation. Another aspect of vocation is working through how to define/discuss/and revitalize the importance of vocational thought not defined by an official church body. Several books have discussed this topic as well as the Catholic Church has defined the calling of the worker in Laborem Exercens.[6]

Literary clarification of the term

These books have attempted to define or clarify the term vocation.

See also

External links


  1. Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Company, 1985), s.v. “vocatio.”
  2. The OED records effectively identical uses of "call" in English back to c.1300: OED, "Call", 6 "To nominate by a personal "call" or summons (to special service or office);esp. by Divine authority..."
  3. Gustaf Wingren, Luther on Vocation
  4. David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of biblical tradition in English literature, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1992, ISBN 0802836348, 9780802836342, Google booksSee also Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons, Ch.3, p. 79 & note 1.
  5. Kenneth G. Appold. Abraham Calov's doctrine of vocatio in its systematic context, p. 125 and generally, Mohr Siebeck, 1998, ISBN 3161468589, 9783161468582, Google books. See also Jeffrey, 815
  6. Laborem exercens - Ioannes Paulus PP. II - Encyclical Letter (1981.09.14)

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