Pro Deo et Patria
“For God and Country”
Motto of the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps
My wife and I stepped out of the Hotel Des Balances on the weinmarkt in Lucerne several years ago to find a cloaked horseman riding into the square. He slowed to a trot and approached a young lad, removing his cloak and handing it down to the shivering youth.
The original incident upon which the re-enactment is based grows more splendid with the telling. A young soldier named Martin (born 336 AD) came across a half-clad beggar and, on impulse, took his sword and parted his cloak, sharing half with the beggar. For some reason, a simple act of kindness insufficiently impresses us, and so we have versions in which Martin dreamed he saw Jesus wearing the half-cloak, of waking up to find it completely restored, and other such embellishments.
The sort of nonsense with which such tales of charity are often dressed up can make us Protestants dismiss the people involved altogether. In Martin’s case, that would be a mistake. When confronted with military duty he found incompatible with his Christian faith, he became what today we might call a conscientious objector, although that phrase is accompanied by its own baggage. He would eventually become Bishop of Tours, leaving military life behind. In that role, he became an impassioned opponent of putting religious dissidents to death.
He was initially successful in pleading for the lives of the Priscillians, a sect with which he was in complete disagreement. Ultimately, the Emperor would succumb to lesser counsels and order the leaders beheaded. Born in what is today part of Hungary, through military and ecclesiastical service, Martin travelled throughout Europe. Allegedly, Martin’s original cloak was preserved and actually had a priest assigned to guard it. That priest was called a cappellanu. In time, the term cappallani was used to designate all priests assigned to military duties.
The French spelled it chapelain, from which our modern word “chaplain” is derived, which brings us to a Mel Gibson movie about a Seventh Day Adventist, the Baptist chaplain first to receive a Medal of Honor and a German Reformed chaplain who chose to serve with an African-American regiment in the American Civil War.
On the Cover
Peasant Wedding, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1567
The Oct-Dec 2016 issue includes these articles:
- Requiem for the Mass
- The Angel of Stones River
- The Battle of Stones River
- John Wycliffe: The Morning Star of the Reformation
- Jeremiah Mickly: A Legacy of Service
- The Conversion of Theodore Beza
- Jonathan Edwards Bear: “The Calvinist in the White House”