In the 4th
century, chaplains (Latin cappellani) were so called because they kept St.
Martins famous half cape (cappella, diminutive of cappa). This sacred
relic gave its name to the tent and later to the simple oratory or chapel
where it was preserved. To it were added other relics that were guarded by
chaplains appointed by the king during the Merovingian and Carolingian periods,
and particularly during the reign of Charlemagne, who appointed clerical
ministers (capellani) who lived within the royal palace. In addition to their
primary duty of guarding the sacred relics, they also said mass for the king
on feast days, worked in conjunction with the royal notaries, and wrote any
documents the king required of them. In their duties chaplains thus gradually
became more identified with direct service to the monarch as advisers in
both ecclesiastical and secular matters. The practice of kings appointing
their own chaplains spread throughout western Christendom. Many of the royal
chaplains were appointed to be bishops and the highest offices in the church;
and down to the present day the British monarchs have appointed their own
royal chaplains. British monarchs still appoint the members of the Royal
College of Chaplains, whose duties now involve little more than preaching
occasionally in the chapel royal.
St. Martin of Tours was born in Hungary in 316AD. When he was
15 he was enrolled into the Roman Army and went to serve in Gaul. One popular
episode in his life was his meeting up with a poor man in the dead of winter.
Almost naked and trembling with cold. Martin, wanting to help did not have
a penny to give (since he had given most of his possessions away to others
he encoutered in his travel). Martin took his sword, divided his cloak and
gave half to the man that was in need. That night, in a dream, Martin saw
Jesus in a dream. He was clothed with the half his cloak saying to His Angels:
Isn't this Martin, still a young student?, yet he covered Me?
Martin recalled the words of Jesus found in Matthew 35:36, "...when I was
naked, you clothed me..." Martin realized that his selfless compassion was
noticed by God and soon afterwards he was baptized. After years of faithfull
service Martin died November 8th, 397AD at the age of 81. The title of Chaplain
(latin cappelani) originated in the fourth century. Chaplains are named after
the "Chapels" that they had responsibility for. Chapels themselves were named
after a religious relic called the cappella, a half cape worn by St. Martin.
Other religious relics were added to the collection and stored in the chapel
as well. The ministers and priests that cared for the chapel were appointed
by the king to guard the relics.
So it is believed that Charlemagne started the practice of keeping the relics
and the chaplains in his palace. Since few people were educated at that time
priests and ministers composed the majority of the educated class. Charlemagne
not only used them as keepers of the relics but to preside over religious
services, helped with book keeping and the writing of histories and personal
documents of the emporer. They were also advisors to the king on both religious
and non-religious issues.
During the reformation this practice was adopted by the Protestants as well.
Oviler Cromwell, who was a parliamentary leader of the armies that overthrew
the English monarchy, became 'Lord Protector " of England, Scotland and Ireland
from 1653 to 1658. Cromwell appointed John Owen as his chaplain and later
as dean of Oxford. John Owen was a prolific puritan writer of practical theology.
In modern usage the term chaplain is not confined to any particular church
or denomination. Clergy and ministers appointed to a variety of institutions
and corporate bodiessuch as cemeteries, prisons, hospitals, schools,
colleges, universities, embassies, legations, and armed forcesusually
are called chaplains.
A chaplain performs basically the same functions in most armed forces. A
chaplain in the U.S. military must furnish or arrange for religious services
and ministrations, advise his commander and fellow staff officers on matters
pertaining to religion and morality, administer a comprehensive program of
religious education, serve as counselor and friend to the personnel of the
command, and conduct instruction classes in the moral guidance program of
Most Americans are familiar wirh the idea of the military Chaplain. Thier
primary duties have included the providing of religous services, advising
their commanders on religious, moral and morale issues; providing religious
education, counseling, and emotional support to the people and familes of
their military units.Modern day Chaplains serve in the armed forces of most
countries, generally as commissioned officers who are not required to bear
arms. Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Jewish chaplains serve in the armed
forces of the United States.
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