Seeds of Chaplaincy

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In order to fully understand chaplaincy of today one must first know where it came from. Much of the duties of chaplains today find their beginning in the Roman armies of the first through sixth centuries. This period of pre/early chaplaincy is what could be considered the foundation for current day chaplaincy. In the first century religion was mainly a function of the state, usually performed by military commanders or the Emperor himself through a variety of ceremonial acts. As Ralph W. Mathisen explains, “As pontifex maximus, or chief priest the emperor had supreme responsibility for maintaining the pax deorum (peace of the gods) and ensuring that the gods who oversaw the welfare of the state continued to do so.” The current day military chaplain, especially in the United States, is not carried out by the elected officials due partially to a separation of church and state, however often there are officials that preside over or have a pivotal role in ceremonially religious events such as military funerals.

Later on in the third century as the regular soldiers of the Roman Empire began to adopt a variety of popular cult religions this need began to change. There was now a requirement for priests to carry out specific ceremonial duties that were not feasible for a commander or Emperor to fulfill. It was during this period that the idea of having someone near the front lines to care for the diverse religious needs of soldiers began to emerge. In the beginning these responsibilities were performed by civilians that would travel with the forces and sometimes the position was filled by a fellow soldier who assumed it as a secondary responsibility. At this point it was not yet as their primary job. The event that is attributed with firmly cemented chaplaincy as a military member whose official duty is the religious well being of the troops, was executed by Constantine. Constantine’s famous vision that caused him to paint a cross on every soldier’s shield...
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