This past spring, Dr. Stephen Presley delivered a lecture for The Land Center for Cultural Engagement entitled, “Engaging a Theology of Vocation in the Early Church.”
In this lecture, Presley paints a picture of life in the early Christian world and explains how vocation participated in the fashioning of their Christian identity.
Christians in the early church faced an economic structure entrenched in the production and distribution of pagan religious objects. Whenever a new convert entered the fold of the church, they were instructed in a vision of spirituality that sought distinction from any hint of the worship of these gods. The church did take time to address these issues in their catechetical formation and often wrote theological treatises dedicated to this kind of cultural engagement.
But separating out a healthy vision of Christian vocation was not always straightforward, and the lines between the sacred and secular were often blurred.
Within this perspective, three texts written in the first half of the third century help frame our thinking about these issues in the early church: Tertullian of Carthage’s treatise On Idolatry, Hippolytus of Rome’s catechetical work On The Apostolic Tradition, and Cyprian of Carthage’s theological work On the Lapsed.
Each of these, in its own way, helps to construct the blueprint of an early Christian view of vocation and the various issues the Christian faced.
At the same time, these works also form an interesting conversation partner for contemporary discussions of vocation. How should Christians in a modern context think about the virtues of their work? How does our work participate in our spiritual lives or growth in sanctification? What difference does our work make in the lives of others?
These and other questions are discussed in the lecture, and we hope you find it interesting!