FROM THE EARLIEST times armies have felt the need for spiritual advisers and Divine aid. In the Old Testament there are many descriptions of battles, and it was the rule rather than the exception for one man to combine the rôles of Commander-in-Chief and Senior Chaplain. Spiritual exercises were considered more important than military training, and a high standard of morals was demanded, with severe penalties for looting or misbehaviour on leave. The God of the Hebrews was at first considered as a God of War, and the title ‘Lord of Hosts’, meaning God of the Armies, was appropriate.
In modern terms, Jehovah was expected to supply advance intelligence and secret weapons. On occasions the sun would stand still or the sea be made dry, while at other times victory would be assured if the Senior Chaplain kept his arms raised, or if the Church parade marched round the walls of the besieged city.
In the same way the Greeks sought advance information from the oracles and the Romans depended upon their College of Augurs. In fact the tribal or national gods have always been expected to produce supernatural aid and make victories certain. The Red Indian medicine men, the African witch doctors, the Dervishes, and others have all enlisted Divine aid in their wars, and with strong religious propaganda instilled a splendid fighting spirit in their soldiers. In modern times this practice was evident among the Japanese in the Second World War, in which their soldiers, with total disregard for comfort or personal safety, were often worthy exponents of their strong but limited religion of Emperor-worship.
But the Hebrews were pioneers in religious research, and the history of their nation, especially in defeat, was woven into their theology until they believed that prosperity in peace or in war depended entirely on the religious integrity of their people.
In the Christian era the whole attitude towards war has changed until in these days it is considered as a thing essentially evil, only to be embarked upon when the causes of disagreements have been scrupulously examined, and when no alternative remains. The page 2 rôle of the clergy in wartime exemplifies this change of thought. In the early days they were expected to lead the attacks as well as the prayers, and there are many examples in history of Popes, Archbishops, and Bishops initiating wars, inspiring crusades, and taking a leading part in battles. Gradually the idea of combatant clergy became repugnant, but throughout Christian history the need for military chaplains has been recognised and met, although even today the only recognition of chaplains in the French Army is the granting of certain privileges to clergy who happen to be serving in the ranks.
In the British Army the word ‘chaplain’ first appears in the reign of Edward I, and from that period there is constant mention of chaplains—one of the accounts of the Battle of Agincourt was written by a chaplain. Gradually their position became more clearly defined in regard to duties, rank, and establishment. In the New Model Army of Cromwell there were Regimental Chaplains, led by a Presbyterian, Master Bowles.