When we think of a chaplain we think in of those who sever in the military providing spiritual comfort to soldier’s hospital. This role of spiritual leader can be traced back to the Roman imperial period where the Roman emperor was not just in charge ruling the empire but also was in charge of the state religion.
Since the emperor was head of the state religion he was known as the “pontifex maximus” and it was his job to maintain the “pax deorum (peace of the gods)” to ensure welfare of the state. Those who served in Roman army religion were important, in every camp there was a shrine called aedes signorum which was locate at the headquarters. Within military there were personal that held different religious responsibilities such as victimarius and turarius who were the incense keepers.
It was not until the fourth century when Christian clergy began to emerge in the Roman army. The source that is often looked at about the use of Christian clerics comes from Eusebius of Caesarea. In his report Life of the Emperor Constantine when he engaged in war he would make his tent in shape of a church to have sacred edifice to worship God in which the priests and deacons would provide the service according to the law of the church.
Other group soldiers that practice religion was the Barbarians who professed Arian from of Christianity and these soldiers were attached the Roman army and were the first examples of Christian’s clerics being attached to an army unit. The Arian clerics would follow the barbarian armies for practical because when the armies would travel they could not find any Arian churches to meet the spiritual needs of the soldiers at the time.
As stated earlier Christian clergy started to be used by the Roman army by Emperor Constantine who had vision of a cross which lead him to paint the symbol on his legionaries shield. This would also lead to other rituals to help Romans soldiers moral they would eventually use Christian relics and litanies and on the sails of the ships they would paint pictures of the Virgin.
As move from the Roman imperial period to the Middle Ages religious leaders took continue to maintain the moral of the men who were fighting and facing imminent death. Chaplains gather their flock and provided liturgical services like penitential rites of purification and supplication because they believe war was the result of sin and the outcome was divine judgment. During the Crusades the fighters would fast three days and only take the Eucharist. They would bless the standard of the forces and would lead the soldiers with a processional cross or a prized relic.
Chaplains would provide special blessings to provide protection on things like The Crusader’s Holy Lance because it was used a tool to communicate during chaos of combat. Just by looking at two different time periods religion was very important to people and the spiritual leaders had their hands full to maintain moral of people especially those who served in military units. They have to deal with stress of war and the toll it would take on the soldiers, this is the same thing that modern chaplains or religious leaders deal with today and it is not an easy job.
——————————————–[ 1 ]. Doris L. Bergen, ed., The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplains from the First to the Twenty-First Century (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004), 29.