The Early History of The Chaplaincy

Although it is still open for debate, there are suggestions that chaplaincy, as a function in the military, can be traced in the Old Testament. Consider the battle of the Israelites and the Amalekites. The children of Israel experienced victory as long Moses held his hands up in Prayer to God. Another example that is discussed in the book deals with the Priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant in some of the battles the Israelites were engaged in. Gideon is also looked at as playing the roles of a prophet, priest, and general.

Doris Bergen is of the opinion that, “pointing to ancient precedents lends legitimacy and prestige to modern military chaplaincies, but it does not always accurately always reflect development in the past. ” The word chaplain as we know it today was coined from the Latin word capellanus which was derived from what Doris Bergen says was “the great royal relic of the patron saint of the Franks, the cappa. ” But evidence of chaplains accompanying soldiers in battle was first noted with the Romans army in fifth century. Some of the duties that they performed involved caring for them by offering prayers and conducting mass.

But an important aspect in the duties of the chaplain in those early days is best understood by a term Doris Bergen credits to Michael McCormick, which is, “liturgy of war. ” In liturgy of war, the chaplains “were not only part of an effort to achieve victory, they also represented a promise to warriors that their actions were just as good. ” Some liturgical texts contain words uttered by soldiers in battle suggesting the influence of “religion. ”The Roman soldiers were known to cry out loud, “Nobiscum, Deus! ”-“God is with us!

”The Frankish warriors on the other hand would, together with their king, march around their camp “in procession, singing kyries and responding to their assembled priests’ chants: To Lord Charles and his army of the Franks, long life and victory! ” with the proto-Romance refrain, “Tu lo juval! ” “(O God) Help him. The liturgy of war reveals how those entrusted with the spiritual care of the soldiers were used and also how those soldiers were affected by the words of the religious men among them. Constantine is known to have claimed seeing a vision of the cross which was an indication of divine help.

And if his soldiers were to paint the symbol of the cross on their shields then, victory would be granted. His victory over the Roman Empire begun what was to be the Christianization of the conquered territory. But it was during the rise of the Carolingian monarchy that seems to have changed the history of war rituals. Doris Bergen mentions three factors that contributed to this change. These were, interest in performance of liturgy, nature of warfare had changed and ambition of the new monarchy which believed that both their activities were divinely sanctioned and that the ruler bore personal responsibility for subjects’ minds and souls.

The revival of liturgy credited to the Carolingians and the application of a different kind of warfare in the middle east by the warriors of the first crusade that resulted in great success, would later give birth to what Doris calls “A new kind of war, a crusade, and with it, the liturgical rites that appeared to have stood the warriors of God in such good stead. Swathed in the success of the conquest of Jerusalem, the future of the liturgy of war was assured. ”