A vocation 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 non-religious contexts, the meanings of the term originated in Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...



Use of the word "vocation" before the sixteenth century referred firstly to the "call" by God to the individual, or calling of all humankind to salvation
Universal call to holiness
Universal Call to Holiness and Apostolate is a teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that all people are called to be holy. This Church teaching states that all within the church should live holy lives....

, particularly in the Vulgate
The Vulgate is a late 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible. It was largely the work of St. Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 to make a revision of the old Latin translations...

, and more specifically to the "vocation to the priesthood", which is still the usual sense in Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholicism also recognizes the single, married, and religious life as vocations. Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

, followed by John Calvin
John Calvin
John Calvin was an influential French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism. Originally trained as a humanist lawyer, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church around 1530...

, placed a particular emphasis on vocations, or divine callings, as potentially including most secular occupations, though this idea was by no means new.

Calvinism is a Protestant theological system and an approach to the Christian life...

 developed complex ideas about different types of vocations of the first type, connected with the concepts of Predestination
Predestination, in theology is the doctrine that all events have been willed by God. John Calvin interpreted biblical predestination to mean that God willed eternal damnation for some people and salvation for others...

, Irresistible grace
Irresistible grace
Irresistible Grace is a doctrine in Christian theology particularly associated with Calvinism, which teaches that the saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save and, in God's timing, overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing...

, 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. Hyper-Calvinism
Hyper-Calvinism is a pejorative term referring to a denial of the free offer of the gospel and duty-faith. The term "Hyper-Calvinism" is used in the writings of Iain Murray, Curt Daniel, Peter Toon and others who seek to defend the free offer of the gospel as well as duty faith.The controversy over...

, 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
Clergy is the generic term used to describe the formal religious leadership within a given religion. A clergyman, churchman or cleric is a member of the clergy, especially one who is a priest, preacher, pastor, or other religious professional....

 is often covered by the English equivalent term "call
Calling (religious)
A calling, in the religious sense of the word, is a religious vocation that may be professional or voluntary and, idiosyncratic to different religions, may come from another person, from a divine messenger, or from within oneself.-History:The idea of a vocation or "calling" has played a...

", 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. In the broadest sense, as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being" (CCC 2392). More specifically, 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 one's gifts in their profession, family life, church and civic commitments for the sake of the greater common good.

Modern vocational examples

Since the origination of Vocational Guidance in 1908, by the engineer Frank Parsons
Frank Parsons
Frank Parsons is known as the Father of Vocational Guidance. Although he was educated as an engineer at Cornell University, he wrote several books on social reform movements and articles related to women's suffrage, taxation, and education for all...

, the use of the term 'vocation' has evolved to include the notion of using our talents and capabilities to good-effect in choosing and enjoying a career. This expansion of the use of word has led to the term being used with far less reference to religious ideology and harks back to the Latin origination of the word.

Literary clarification

These books have attempted to define or clarify the term vocation.
  • States of the Christian life and vocation, according to the doctors and theologians of the Church
  • A Theology of the Laity by Hendrik Kraemer ISBN 978-1-57383-031-7
  • The Fabric of this World by Lee Hardy ISBN 978-0-8028-0298-9
  • Your Work Matters to God by Doug Sherman and William Hendricks ISBN 978-0-89109-372-5
  • The Call by Os Guinness ISBN 978-0-8499-4437-6
  • The Preaching Life by Barbara Brown Taylor ISBN 978-1-56101-074-5
  • Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer ISBN 978-0-7879-4735-4
  • Lay People in the Church: A Study for a Theology of the Laity by Yves M.J. Congar, O.P. Translated by Donald Attwater 1959
  • Luther on Vocation by Gustaf Wingren 1957
  • God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. ISBN 1-58134-403-1

See also

  • Otium
    Otium, a Latin abstract term, has a variety of meanings, including leisure time in which a person can enjoy eating, playing, resting, contemplation and academic endeavors. It sometimes, but not always, relates to a time in a person's retirement after previous service to the public or private...

  • Calling (religious)
    Calling (religious)
    A calling, in the religious sense of the word, is a religious vocation that may be professional or voluntary and, idiosyncratic to different religions, may come from another person, from a divine messenger, or from within oneself.-History:The idea of a vocation or "calling" has played a...

  • Trade (occupation)
  • Vocational discernment in the Catholic Church
    Vocational discernment in the Catholic Church
    Vocational discernment is the process in which men or women in the Catholic Church discern, or determine, their vocation in the Church. Though one may also speak of discerning a vocation to marriage or to life as a single person, discerning a vocation most frequently refers to a special vocation...

  • Vocational education
    Vocational education
    Vocational education or vocational education and training is an education that prepares trainees for jobs that are based on manual or practical activities, traditionally non-academic, and totally related to a specific trade, occupation, or vocation...

External links

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