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Chaplains & Pluralism

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Chaplains, the Constitution, and Pluralism

Submitted to Dr. Paul B. Greer, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of the course

CHPL 500 – B03
Introduction to Chaplaincy


William K. Resor Jr.
February 26, 2014


Introduction The foundation of chaplaincy can be traced as far back as biblical times. Dr. Steve Keith shares in his video that the Old Testament has examples of priests going into battle, marching alongside the soldiers, sounding the horns, and carrying the Ark of the Covenant. He mentions biblical heroes such as Aaron and Gideon as being forerunners to what we call chaplains today.[1] Bergen adds: "Certainly those interested in origins can find numerous biblical accounts of priests at war... Indeed, Old Testament militarism has been a problem for Christian exegesis from early on. Nevertheless, national chaplaincies invoke various examples of chaplain-like functions."[2] There is little doubt that chaplains, or their counterpart in ancient times, have been acting in one way or another with the military groups of their specific era. This paper will examine the history of chaplaincy from the periods of 27 AD to 1600 AD and find that the common principle among these priests of ancient times and chaplains along the spectrum of time is that they offer a glimpse of spiritual hope in situations that can be riddled in hopelessness, death, and despair. Chaplaincy in the Roman Imperial Period The realization that the office of chaplaincy has roots as deep as the Old Testament does not merit the assumption that this office was recognized during the Roman Imperial period. There is speculation that a priest or chaplain would be in the picture due to the many spiritual and religious needs of the time. However, the Roman emperor may have carried out many a chaplain or priest because separation of church and state was not an issue, thus the Roman emperor would also be the head of the Roman state religion. "As pontifex maximus, or chief priest, the emperor had supreme responsibility for maintaining the pas deorum (peace of the gods) and ensuring that the gods who oversaw the welfare of the state continued to do so."[3] Other religious responsibilities may have been delegated throughout the ranks but these simple positions hardly required full-time commitment and none of these individuals were called "a priest or could qualify as a chaplain."[4] This simple conclusion does not come without question. The evidence, although slim, shows evidence "for priests-qua-priests who functioned within the context of Roman army units."[5] It is difficult to trace the roots of chaplaincy during this period. The examples are sparse and accompanied with minimization. Yet, it can be argued "that soldiers acting in the capacity of priests occasionally represented military units in religious ceremonies of a local nature..."[6] It is also noted that this era had many eastern nonstate cults that were becoming popular within the ranks of the army. The religious ceremonies of these cults were never accepted as being official. Nevertheless, they existed side by side with the traditional state and local cults of the third century. The emergence of Christian clergy coming onto the scene in the fourth century is often referenced in his Life of the Emperor Constantine. During engagements in war he would have a tent constructed in the shape of a church so that his army would have a sacred place for praise and worship. Priests and deacons followed along to help facilitate the law of the church.[7] There are, however, that show no other evidence that Christian clergy accompanied Roman armies in the early fifth century. Furthermore, in The Life of St. Martin of Tours, it states that the army units did not have Christian priests, and during Martin's service in the 350s, "his activities were carried out in a solitary fashion."[8] The beginning of the middle of the fifth century shows evidence of Christian clerics being attached to military units. Letters from bishop Theoderet of Cyrrhus (393 - ca. 460), Pope Pelagius (555-60), also give credence to the use of priests to accompany the military to tend to their spiritual needs. Mathisen concludes by admitting that evidence for priests serving in the Roman army is minimal. The late Roman period does show an occasional Christian cleric attached to non-mobile army units, but it was not well established throughout. On the other hand, Barbarian army units seem to have used Christian clerics on a regular basis. "In both cases, Christian clerics serving with army units presumably carried out the same functions as priests in civilian life, and therefore would certainly seem to qualify as "chaplains." And in them one can see at least a faint foreshadowing of modern military chaplains."[9]

Chaplaincy in the Middle Ages Chaplaincy in the Middle Ages begins to take root and it was during this time that we find the emergence of the term chaplain. "A ninth-century scholar who had served as a royal chaplain records that the Latin word capellanus derives from the great royal relic of the patron saint of the Franks, the cappa. Dr. Keith shares the story of the well-to-do Martin coming across a beggar that was cold. He took his cape and tore it in half in order to help keep the man warm and thus the emergence for the term that we have today, chaplain.[10] Additionally, Encyclopaedia Britannica gives this account: "chaplain, originally a priest or minister who had charge of a chapel, now an ordained member of the clergy who is assigned to a special ministry. The title dates to the early centuries of the Christian church." [11] Michael McCormick gives this account on the development of chaplaincy in the Middle Ages: "In the development of Christian military religious practices, research to date indicates three critical turning points down to the First Crusade. The first occurred in late antiquity; the second came in the Carolingian period around 800; and the last from the First Crusade itself, in 1099."[12] The maturation of the office of chaplain can be seen in this period. From celebrations of victory to changes in the nature of warfare brought about much bloodshed in the name of Christianity. Early medieval chaplains attempted to keep morale up and took advantage of the times when they could accomplish pastoral care. Men were focused on the matter of imminent death. "Before battle, the chaplains and their flock staged spectacular and participatory liturgical services, including special votive masses. The belief that war arose out of sin, and that the outcome of battle was a form of divine judgment reinforced the menace of death to encourage penitential rites of purification and supplication."[13] The heaviness of this period is evident. Chaplains carried the value of the Christian religion into a very formidable place. They brought this to the men that were faced with hearts and minds full of images of death. Medieval Chaplaincy The office of the chaplain was well developed by the mid-thirteenth century. The sacramental and moral aspects of had achieved a strong foot-hold in law. "In 1238, Pope Gregory IX (1227 -41) provided a detailed list of the military chaplain's duties in a papal bull--a legally binding expression of the papal government's religious authority..."[14] Many of the duties that Pope Gregory provided were already well established into law. Twenty years before, Pope Innocent II issued his own authoritative statement concerning the role and duties of the chaplain. "Bishop Ivo of Chartres (1090 -1115) laid out in great detail the canonical responsibilities of military chaplains in the armies of the West, including both their moral and sacramental duties."[15] This pattern continues and works back to the mid-ninth century closing in on the origin of the office of the military chaplain. "In 742, the official status and duties of priests serving in the armies of the regnum Francorum underwent significant change."[16] The crucial moment in the development of the chaplain service came in 742 when the Frankish government formally established the office of the unit chaplain, whose incumbent was obliged to hear confessions and assign penances to soldiers under his care...Over the course of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries, ecclesiastical authorities, including a number of popes, adapted the original Carolingian chaplain's office by emphasizing those elements that fit their own needs and concerns...Consequently, it is clear that soldiers in the armies of medieval Europe, like their counterparts in the early modern eras, could depend upon priests to see them through the terrors and moral dilemmas inherent in warfare.[17]

Chaplaincy in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms The wars of the Three Kingdoms brought on new problems for the chaplain. "Religious matters played a central role in all three conflicts, and for all three, Parliament made provisions for chaplains to be a part of the army. Chaplains served on both side of the civil war that split England in the period from 1642 to 1649..."[18] These wars during this period were part of a bigger conflict in Europe is which a series of confessional wars that had Protestants and Catholics in opposition. Chaplains were faced with yet another dilemma. They would have to come to terms with siding with a government or siding with the principles of God. Soldiers often times would change sides due to encouragement from Parliament. Conflicts between different Christian denominations were also an issue. The office of the chaplain would prove to hold much power in these wars. "The substance of the chaplains' political message derived from the idea that God had chosen the Parliament's army...Chaplains attracted special criticism because people outside the army believed they disseminated radical religious views that had implications for any political settlement."[19]

Laurence concludes that the civil war made it possible for the chaplain to argue for complete victory or advocate for restraint. If the enemy were Roman Catholic rebel, it was easier for chaplains to deliver a simple message, but if the enemy were disloyal co-religionists, they would take a more careful approach. "But is each case, there was a strong sense that different kinds of chaplains suited the war...Thus, chaplains' appointments in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms show a high degree of ideological pragmatism."[20] Conclusion It is clear that the office of chaplain has been in existence for quite some time. Priests in the Old Testament would accompany the troops into battle with the sounding of horns. The Roman army would utilize priests as well as soldiers to carry out religious services and duties. The middle ages brought in the title "chaplain" from an event that shows the kindness of giving to others. This vocation has matured through time and is not exempt from the scars of battle. The office of the chaplain has been used for political gain as well. It is apparent that the need for chaplains in the military has been established, and that the chaplains will continue to show spiritual hope in situations that can be riddled in hopelessness, death, and despair.


Bachrach, David S. "The Medieval Military Chaplains and His Duties," in The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplains from the First to the Twenty-First Century, ed. Doris L. Bergen (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004). 69-88.

Bergen, Doris L., ed. The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplains from the First to the Twenty-First Century. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004.

Chaplain, Encyclopædia Britannica Online, accessed January 27, 2014,

Keith, Dr, Steve “Presentation: Early Foundations of Chaplaincy 27 Bc-1600 Ad” (Video). Lecture, Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia. Accessed January 27, 2014.

Laurence, Anne. "Did the Nature of the Enemy Make a Difference?: Chaplains in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, 1642-49," In The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplains from the First to the Twenty-First Century, ed. Doris L. Bergen (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004). 89 -101.

Mathisen, Ralph W. "Emperors, Priests, and Bishops: Military Chaplains in the Roman Empire," In The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplains from the First to the Twenty-First Century, edited by Doris L. Bergen, 29-39. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004.

McCormick, Michael. "The Liturgy of War from Antiquity to the Crusades," in The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplains from the First to the Twenty-First Century, ed. Doris L. Bergen (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004). 45-68.

----------------------- [1] Dr. Steve Keith, “Presentation: Early Foundations of Chaplaincy 27 Bc-1600 Ad” (Video of lecture, Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia,), accessed January 27, 2014, [2] Doris L. Bergen, ed., The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplains from the First to the Twenty-First Century (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004), 5.

[3] Ralph W. Mathisen, "Emperors, Priests, and Bishops: Military Chaplains in the Roman Empire," in The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplains from the First to the Twenty-First Century, ed. Doris L. Bergen (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004) 29-30. [4] Ibid. 30 [5] Ibid. 31 [6] Ibid. [7] Mathisen, Emperors, Priests, and Bishops. 36. [8] Ibid. [9] Mathisen, Emperors, Priests, and Bishops. 39. [10] Dr. Steve Keith, “Presentation: Early Foundations of Chaplaincy 27 Bc-1600 Ad” [11] Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. "chaplain", accessed January 27, 2014, [12] Michael McCormick. "The Liturgy of War from Antiquity to the Crusades," in The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplains from the First to the Twenty-First Century, ed. Doris L. Bergen (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004). 54. [13] Michael McCormick. "The Liturgy of War from Antiquity to the Crusades." 54. [14] David S. Bachrach. "The Medieval Military Chaplains and His Duties," in The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplains from the First to the Twenty-First Century, ed. Doris L. Bergen (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004). 69-70. [15] Ibid. 71 [16] Ibid. 75 [17] David S. Bachrach. "The Medieval Military Chaplains and His Duties." 84. [18] Anne Laurence. "Did the Nature of the Enemy Make a Difference?: Chaplains in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, 1642-49," in The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplains from the First to the Twenty-First Century, ed. Doris L. Bergen (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004). 89. [19] Ibid. 96-97. [20] Anne Laurence. "Did the Nature of the Enemy Make a Difference?: Chaplains in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, 1642-49," 101.

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