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in low repute, and that many commanders measured the worth of the chaplains by their ability to serve as handymen rather than by their competence as clergymen.
In spite of its status following the Civil War, the chaplaincy evolved into a respected professional branch of the Army. That evolution was not due to mere happenstance but rather to the cumulative effect of a combination of factors that brought recognition to the chaplaincy. Foremost among those factors was the ministry of the chaplains themselves, particularly during wartime. Their demonstrated effectiveness in the education and recreation fields, as well as in the area of religion, generated increased esteem for their office. Then, too, their willingness to provide or arrange for ministrations to persons of all religious backgrounds produced additional recognition.
Those ministries, however, along with the recognition they received from within the Army community, were not enough to effect the evolution of the chaplaincy into a professional branch. Several zealous chaplains—particularly Orville J. Nave, Aldred A. Pruden, and John T. Axton-realized that and conducted an additional ministry in behalf of the chaplaincy. Nave went outside the Army establishment and aroused the churches to a concern for the moral and religious welfare of servicemen. Though his outspokenness and modus operandi did not endear him to his immediate military superiors, he persuaded churches to make a more careful appraisal of their applicants for the chaplaincy. To that end some churches established committees or commissions to examine their candidates and recommend the best qualified to the War Department. Nave also persuaded church leaders to use their influence to encourage military authorities and elected Federal officials to grant greater professional status to the chaplaincy.
To increase the efficiency of chaplains, Chaplains Pruden and Axton labored within the Army and among civilian church leaders. Pruden was primarily responsible for the creation of the Board of Chaplains which met in 1909 to ascertain how the ministry of the chaplains could be made more effective and to make appropriate recommendations to the Chief of Staff. But his most significant contribution to the chaplaincy was his role in convincing the War Department to establish a “Training School for Newly-Appointed Chaplains and Chaplain Candidates.' During the extended campaign for a corps of chaplains headed by a chaplain, Axton was especially skillful as an articulate spokesman on the Board of Chaplains which met in 1919 in the Office of the War Plans Division,
among church leaders, and before Congress. His advocacy for the required legislation was substantially reinforced by the history of Bishop Charles H. Brent's successful supervision of the A.E.F. chaplains.
Yet the evolution of the chaplaincy into a professional branch would have been delayed indefinitely without the overwhelming support of the civilian religious bodies. The efforts and influence of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, the Roman Catholic predecessor of the Military Ordinariate, and the Jewish Welfare Board were extensive and pervasive; their contribution to the chaplaincy was immeasurable. During the Great War, they focused public attention on the ministry of the chaplains, persuaded the War Department to adopt new policies for the appointment and training of chaplains, and convinced the President and Congress to increase the number of chaplains. Consequently, the chaplaincy received recognition such as it had never known. After World War I, the same religious bodies marshaled the required support for the legislation that authorized the Office of the Chief of Chaplains.
In short, the evolution of the chaplaincy into a professional branch was the result of the recognition that chaplains had received for their ministry, especially for that which they rendered during times of war. Curiously enough, their ministry was no less than effective during peacetime, especially between 1898 and 1920. Everything considered, they served God and man with the same devotion and compassion as Martin of Tours.
West Point Postscript
Reminiscing in 1908 about West Point chaplains he had known, William J. Roe (Class of 1867), claimed that their “best endeavors failed utterly to produce any change whatever in the attitude of the . . cadets toward orthodoxy." Yet he said that they-John W. French, John Forsyth, and William M. Postlethwaite—were able men; they "faithfully . . . endeavored to achieve an influence” among the cadets, and "were all Christian gentlemen, in the best sense of the phrase, earnest, devout, desirous of doing their full duty.” He emphasized that their lack of success was not because sentiment at the academy was that of “indifference to religious essentials,” “prejudice against any form of expression of faith," or "infidelity.” Rather it was the result of several factors that diminished what usually passes for “orthodox religion” and “genuine religious life.” 1
One factor was the “extremely exacting weekly inspection” held on Sunday mornings before "Church Call.” Once the inspection was over, many cadets found attendance at chapel “burdensome”; compulsory attendance made it more so. In a letter to the Army-Navy Journal, a cadet wrote that the "amount of ‘cussing that cadets do over chapel formation more than counterbalances the good effect.” He reported that cadets often vowed that they would never attend church after their graduation, and many apparently kept that vow. Chaplain Cephas C. Bateman observed that many officers did not attend religious services precisely because of the requirements to attend chapel while cadets.*
Another factor that diminished the influence of the chaplains was their age; they were "well advanced in . . . years” and encountered some difficulty in bridging the generation gap." Chaplain French was 46 years old when he was appointed and commissioned, Forsyth 60 years old, and Postlethwaite 42 years old. But a more significant factor was that the chaplains were expected to function effectively in the dual capacity of
See notes at end of appendix.
chaplain and professor of history, geography, and ethics. As early as 1838 the Board of Visitors recognized the difficulty of meeting the expectations of both roles, and recommended to the War Department and Congress that the chaplaincy and professorship be separated. To that end a bill, introduced in the Senate in 1838 to increase the size of the Army, contained a provision for that separation. Unfortunately, that provision was deleted, and the same arrangement continued.
In 1869 the Board of Visitors again proposed the separation of the chaplaincy and professorship. Noting that Chaplain French was teaching ethics and law, it said that his duties were too onerous;
However eminent and faithful one may be in the discharging of the
filled by teachers of religion.” Again, however, the proposal came to naught, and two years later, in a reorganization of the faculty, French's title was changed to “Professor of Law and Ethics.” But both the board and the academy superintendent continued to recommend that the chaplaincy be severed from the professorship and be limited to four years. In addition, apparently aiming its sights at the practice of appointing Episcopal clergymen to the position, the board propounded that:
as far as practicable, that the religious denominations be represented in rotation, in order that the principle so wisely adopted by the founders of the republic, and working so prosperously throughout the country, may be practically recognized at this post—that is to say no monopoly of political patronage; no ecclesiastical estab
lishment; no union of church and state.' Adopting the latter proposal was a relatively simple matter, because it did not require an act of Congress. Furthermore, due to the death of Chaplain French, an Episcopalian, the proposal was implemented almost immediately. John Forsyth, a Reformed Church of America clergyman, was appointed to the position.
In 1875, the cadet chaplain was finally relieved of his duties as instructor in law and replaced by a judge-advocate officer, and the chaplain's title was again changed to “Professor of Ethics.” 10 Soon thereafter, ethics was dropped from the curiculum. The changes were apparently designed to relieve the chaplain of teaching duties outside his field and permit him to devote his full time to the chaplaincy and, at the same time,